June 7, 2010 3:36:09 am
In Bensons 14 years of existence,the one constant companion has been death. Apart from his sister Bency. Last month,he lost her too.
The brother and sister,both HIV-positive,had attracted national attention in 2003 when they were denied admission in a local school in Kerala after the parents of other students protested.
The siblings were only taken back after a public awareness drive,which included photo-ops with celebrities and film personalities,who hugged them to dispel common apprehensions about the disease.
But just when they thought they had triumphed in the battle against discrimination,death snatched away Bency,16. She had been admitted to a hospital with measles.
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At their house at Kaithakuzhi in Kollam,Benson flips quietly through the pages of his sisters funeral album as his grandmother Salamma,57,sits motionless. In the last 13 years,AIDS has claimed three members of the family.
It all began when Salammas only daughter Princy married C K Chandy 17 years back. Chandy,who reportedly contracted the disease during his stay in Mumbai,died in 1997. Princy,who had been diagnosed HIV-positive by then,died three years later. The children,Benson and Bency,then came under the care of their grandparents Geevarghese and Salamma. Geevarghese,who had led the fight for the children to be accepted,died in 2005.
As an outcome of the public attention,the siblings got free supply of costly medicine and aid,sponsored by Hindustan Latex Ltd,the Clinton Foundation and the Kerala State AIDS Control Society (KSACS). Bency had been promoted to Class X recently,while Benson is in Class IX.
Bency had been undergoing the second-line anti-retroviral therapy for the last two years after the CD4 count in her blood came down. She was the first HIV patient in Kerala to get the multi-drug,second-line treatment, says Health Inspector M S Biju,who has been deputed to look after the children.
Biju says the CD4 count in Bensons blood too had fallen below 500 in the last medical check-up. If the count does not improve steadily,says KSACS director Dr T V Velayudhan,the boy too would be recommended for second-line therapy.
Salamma understands that the second-line therapy perhaps signifies the last attempt to protract the life of her grandson. Recurring deaths have upset me. Only God knows the pain I am forced to live with… He (Chandy) should not have cheated us like this. Chandy was aware about the disease when he married our daughter. No mother should face this predicament, says Salamma,whose only income is a monthly pension of Rs 3,000.
Although the general public has changed the mindset,our relatives are still afraid of visiting us… I have been looking after the children for the last 16 years without any precautions, she says.
Sitting nearby,Benson,back at school after summer vacations,is more stoic. I want to live only until God allows me. My only prayer is that my ammachi (grandma) should live to look after me.
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