A linguist, 26-year-old Rahul (name changed) has been living with HIV ever since he was born. When he applied for a job in an IT company, he had no qualms in disclosing that he was infected with HIV when the firm, as a rule, insisted on a medical test before appointing him.
“I have been living with HIV since I was born, brought up in a middle class household, went to a good school and need a job. I hope you will not reject me because of my HIV status,” Rahul had said in his job interview.
The firm did not reject him.
It has been nearly 30 years since the first case of AIDS was detected in India in 1986. With the introduction of anti-retroviral treatment in the 1990s, HIV positive persons gradually picked up the threads of ordinary life. “Several died of full-blown AIDS. But many others survived due to anti-retroviral treatment (ART) that was consistently taken over a period of time. Due to transmission of HIV from mother to child, a large number of children were born with the virus. We thought they would never survive. But ART medication, care and support programmes have helped them,” says Dr Vinay Kulkarni, director of Prayas health clinic, one of the oldest clinics in the city to initiate treatment for HIV patients way back in the 90s.
Rahul is one among the increasing number of adolescents born with HIV who have learnt to deal with life, sexuality and their several other needs. While some are hesitant about disclosing their HIV status unless in an intimate relationship, others are quite vocal about it, Kulkarni says.
However, there is also a group of HIV positive adolescents who were never told they had the virus by the relatives or parents till they were in their teens. According to Dr Sanjeevani Kulkarni, in charge of the adolescent groups at Prayas health clinic, they have followed at least 150 cases to date where children were born with HIV.
“At least 12 of them felt it was their fault that they got HIV. Others blamed their parents. It took several workshops to explain to them that no parent deliberately passed on the virus to the child,” Kulkarni says.
Seven of these adolescents even wrote their experiences in a book Kelele Tevha – When I came to know about it. Others decided to start a support group “So What”, which now meets once a month to discuss issues that affect them, says an HIV positive youngster with the group.
At Prayas, the focus now is to help counsel HIV positive youngsters staying at care centres. “There are 22 institutions that provide care and support to HIV orphans, but there is a need to understand their feelings as well. At these institutions, the children’s HIV status is already known, so there is a mixed bag of emotions that they go through,” says Dr Kulkarni, adding that they have planned a series of counselling workshops from December14-18 at Solapur.