Wanted: Home for shunned HIV orphan

Guwahati, Dec. 23 : A four-year-old HIV-positive girl from Nalbari, who was abandoned by her family after her parents died, has no place to go because orphanages in the state have refused to take her in.

The Assam AIDS Control Society is now looking to Manipur or Calcutta to find her a home because Assam does not have a shelter for HIV-positive orphans.

The child, who was born with the infection, lost her mother to AIDS in October. Her father had died of the disease two years ago.

Her paternal aunts, with whom she was living, abandoned the child who was left without food or shelter with villagers treating her as an untouchable.

A local NGO, Nalbari Barnibari Yuva Sangha, rescued her and handed her to the Indian Network of Positive People (INP+) in Guwahati on December 11.

The State AIDS Control Society has since been looking for a place for her to stay but has drawn a blank.

“We are in contact with officials in Manipur and Calcutta. We have been informed that there is no space in the only orphanage for HIV-positive children in Manipur, but we are trying to contact the Bharukha Welfare Trust head office in Calcutta. The NGO has a care centre in Guwahati but it does not have facilities for HIV-positive orphans. We are taking care of her, but we are struggling to find a care centre for the child,” the additional project officer of the State AIDS Control Society, N.N. Sonowal, said.

Sonowal said the girl is underweight and malnourished and doctors are taking care of her at a community care centre. But this is a temporary arrangement.

According to National AIDS Control Organisation (NACO) guidelines, the child can stay at the centre for only 15 days, and she has already been there for 10 days.

Jahnavi Goswami, president of the Indian Network of Positive People, said they would extend her stay at the centre but they still needed to find a permanent shelter.

“Very few states in India have facilities for HIV-positive children and many states are facing problems while taking care of such children. We had predicted a similar situation in the state and moved the state government for a special care home for HIV-positive children. A shelter home is being constructed, but it is yet to be ready,” she added.

Goswami was the first woman in the region to declare her HIV-positive status and has been active in HIV/AIDS prevention and care for the past few years.

There are nearly 70 HIV/AIDS positive orphans in the state but they are staying with family members. This is the first case of an HIV-positive orphan being abandoned by family, Goswami said.

In November 2009, Dispur had announced an orphanage dedicated to children whose parents had died of AIDS or who were themselves infected with the virus, but it is not ready yet.

Among other government schemes, the state health department is providing free anti-retroviral treatment facilities for HIV-positive people in three government hospitals.