February 1, 2021 12:56:05 am
THE MUMBAI District AIDS Control Society (MDACS), run under the National AIDS Control Society (NACO), has started ‘Mitwaa’ – a counselling programme that will help teenagers infected with AIDS deal with the pycho-social impact of the disease on their lives.
At least 821 teens, aged 15 to 19 years, have registered with NACO in Mumbai will be part of Mitwaa.
“I remember meeting a 20-year-old youth two years ago. His parents never told him he had HIV. When he fell ill and underwent a battery of tests, he came to know that he was HIV positive. He was furious with his parents for hiding this. Eventually, he developed suicidal thoughts and refused medication,” said Smita Ayun Indalkar, a counsellor at Babasaheb Kandivali Shatabdi hospital.
Indulkar required two weeks to calm him down, then counselled him to start medicines and explained to his parents the best ways to handle his mood swings. Both parents were HIV positive and were undergoing medication for over two decades. The youth eventually began taking medicines regularly. This year, he finished graduation and has started working.
“Every time an adolescent with HIV comes to us, we realise we need a special programme to handle them after they come to know they have HIV,” Indulkar said. In Mumbai, MDACS has registered 1,422 children and teenagers living with HIV, almost all cases of mother-to-child transmission. Some have lost their parents to the virus and live in institutions, others orphaned are looked after by relatives.
There are 19 anti-retroviral therapy (ART) centres, but only one centre in Sion hospital exclusively deals with paediatric counselling.
“Children are given ART medicines under the pretext of multi-vitamins. When they grow older, they become suspicious,” said Dr Shrikala Acharya, project director at MDACS. The news about HIV is broken to them when they are aged between 13 to 15 years.
Mitwaa’s counselling sessions will help adolescents who are vulnerable to unsafe sexual behaviour and drug injectables.
Till now, 20 to 25 people, aged 15 to 20 years, have been called for a group workshop in Wadala. The most common questions they ask are how to live with the disease without disclosing it, who to disclose it to and how to handle stigma in society.
“Adolescents are psychologically affected when told that the medicines they have been taking as a child are ART medicines and not multi-vitamins,” said Sushil Nikam, assistant director in the care support treatment department at MDACS.
Denial, refusal to take medicines, anger over parents and isolation are common reactions. “In group sessions, we counsel them that their life does not stop. Most of whom who get free treatment at ART centres are poor. We encourage them to undergo skill training,” Nikam said.
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