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Saturday, November 30, 2002

LIVE AND LET LIVE -- HIV/AIDS IN INDIA

By Rev Isaac Newton Johnson

LUDHIANA, INDIA  (ANS) -- While Christians the world over have been celebrating the first Sunday in Advent of our Lord Jesus Christ on December 1st, 2002, coincidently the whole world has also been celebrating World AIDS Day on the same day.

With stigma and discrimination proving to be the greatest barrier to generating awareness and prevention of this killer disease in India, our Indian National AIDS Control Organization (NACO), has launched a two year AIDS prevention campaign on December 1, 2002, with the theme "Stigma and Discrimination" and slogan of "Live and Let Live." The campaign was launched on the occasion of the World AIDS Day. The main objective behind launching the campaign is to stress on greater communities participation and creating awareness on this disaster disease spreading rapidly on alarming rate in India.

FOCUS ON AIDS
Did you know that in India, six of our states have over 1 one per cent of adults who are HIV positive? Over 7 per cent of Indian AIDS patients are females in the child bearing age group and if the same trend continues, this number is likely to increase in the near future.

The data is frightening, but here the hype seems to begin and end with Mr. Bill Gates who two years ago became aware of the extent of the AIDS problem in India. I believe that the Holy Spirit moved the heart of Microsoft Corp Chairman Bill Gates, U.S.A., who has made his third visit to India in second week of November 2002 meaningful and memorable by committing an initial 100 million US dollars (Rupees 500 crores) to check the spread of HIV/AIDS in India. His India AIDS Initiative will expand access to proven HIV prevention interventions among mobile populations. It will also combat strictly stigma in the minds of Indians surrounding the disease and increase awareness and leadership of HIV/AIDS through a nationwide communication and advocacy efforts.

At present in India, which has an estimated four million HIV/AIDS, cases and has the second largest HIV-positive population in the world. Indian AIDS affected population will definitely receive moral and medical support to fight back this disaster disease through Mr. Gates' generous financial support out of his hard earned fortune. But it has yet to be seen when and where this committed money is utilized for the poor sick community in India.

In my Panjab State, the AID/HIV positive cases are increasing day by day. Last week a news note "20 Kids orphaned by AIDS" in Ropar District appeared in the local newspapers have shocked and astonished the social thinkers and soul winners like me to pause, pray and plan to protect the poor public of Panjab from this dreaded disease. It has further mentioned in the news note that the parents of the kids died of prolong illness perhaps of AIDS. The parents were said to be truck drivers, obviously semi-literate and had been working outside the Panjab state.

Another encouraging story of an educated lady widowed at 33, with a responsibility of one-year-old daughter in 1991 and presently working as Clerk in government school in Panjab found HIV-positive at the aged of 44. She is fighting AIDS with her friends compassion who brought her to Post Graduate Institute, Chandigarh, recently where she is being properly treated.

"Ever since my colleagues at the government school where I am posted guided me to PGI, Chandigarh, my health has improved and with the doctors giving me at least ten years more years of life. I shall be able to settle my 12 years old daughter, who is unaware of my disease," says a frail Swaranjeet (name changed) sounding optimistic. This is a rare case where the people have stepped in to provide all possible help instead of a general ostracizing and shunning of those known to be suffering from HIV/AIDS.

The doctors treating HIV/AIDS victims usually say that major problem being faced by patients is the high cost of medicines, which is beyond the reach of average Indian citizen. The monthly cost of ant-retroviral drugs for a fully blown AIDS case would be more than Rs. 7000/- (US$ 150/-) for protease inhibitor based regimens and about Rs. 1500/- (US$ 32/-) for those taking triple combination of RTI's.

The majority of Indians cannot afford this treatment and thus have died mysteriously. But, in the case of government, servants the medical reimbursement could have been the easy way out had it not been for the social stigma attached to the disease as doctor's claims in their press note. They pointed out that in case of government servants affected from HIV/AIDS, they are being requested to write some other medicines, instead of the ones for HIV/AIDS, so that they can claim reimbursement without others getting to know about their disease.

"Being unethical, we can not do it but if the government of India could devise a way so that the AIDS patients can get medical reimbursement, without others coming to know about the nature of the disease, it could be in their interest," claims one of the doctors. Thus it is the need of the hour that our Indian Government should not only come to the rescue of the government servants but frame such policies immediately under which every Indian citizen suffering from AIDS could get free treatment from the nearest government hospital.

Interacting with the media persons on November 11, 2002 Mr. Bill Gates said, " I have come here to learn and understand the problem and how to reach out to people to prevent the spread of the AIDS disease." In the first phase he intends to finance "Mobile Clinics" to fight AIDS.

Voice of Christians Ministries, Ludhiana, India, whole heartedly supports and commends the holy Biblical steps taken by Mr. Bill Gates of "Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation U.S.A. to finance "Mobile Clinics" to fight HIV/AIDS in the poorest of poor in India. As the Holy Bible says, "He who has pity on the poor lends to the Lord, and He will pay back what he has given" (Proverbs 19: 17). God bless and repay back Mr. Bill Gates and his family abundantly for his gesture for Indians suffering from HIV/AIDS.

Let us we Christians around the world renew our Christian faith and commitment on this first Sunday in Advent of our Lord Jesus Christ to serve the sick and poor people on the face of the earth. Our Lord said, "I have come that they may have life, and that they may have it more abundantly" (St. John 10:10).

Organizations who would like to guide and help us Voice of Christians Ministries, Ludhiana, India to fight back the menace of HIV/AIDS amongst poor and slum dwellers in India are most welcomed.

By Rev Isaac Newton Johnson Click here