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HIV/AIDS and Orphans

Letters

HIV/AIDS and Orphans

I
n a period of two decades, HIV/ AIDS has spread with a ferocious efficiency, accentuating its impact at all levels, leaving behind a track of huge social problems. Children, innocent victims, are the hardest hit by this rampant disease. Suffering the tragedy of loss of one or both parents – which renders them orphans – proves damaging to their cognitive and emotional development. It subjects them to the worst kinds of life – inaccessibility to education, child labour, inflicting on them antisocial instincts as they experience stigmatisation, marginalisation and exclusion. The cases of children who have contracted this virus through mother to child transmission are even more excruciating, and hopeless. In fact, a new term, “skip generation” has been created by the debilitating virus.

The statistics on AIDS orphans reveal that an estimated 15 million children under 18 have been orphaned by HIV/AIDS worldwide, with around two million of them living in India, the largest number for any individual country. Even if all HIV infections were to be checked today, the numbers orphaned will continue to spiral upward due to the time lag between contracting the HIV infection, death and orphanhood. Thus, while the situation of AIDS orphans is grave, the worst is yet to come.

In India, there is limited experience for implementing care and maintaining support systems for children orphaned by AIDS. Informal arrangements such as family or community-based care are very rare. Human Rights Watch found several cases in which institutions had turned away children because of their parent’s HIV+ status. Paradoxically, the potential harm to children from institutionalisation has been well documented.

Research has shown that the children in institutions lack basic and traditionally accepted social and cultural skills to function in their societies. They lack basic life skills, and parental skills. Therefore they have more difficulties with relationships after leaving an orphanage. It is recognised that compared to institutionalisation, community-based care is cost-effective and provides the children with a familiar, social, cultural and ethnic environment. Institutional care can be the option of last resort in this scenario.

Therefore, socio-economic assistance and psychosocial support to an AIDS orphan at all levels, i e, the family, community, national and international, is an urgent need at this crucial stage of the crisis. At the national level, the important role of the government is to formulate a national strategic plan to tackle the problem of children affected by AIDS, duly reviewing supportive policies and programmes. However, such a strategy should focus on (i) the provision of free education and vocational skill training to orphans and vulnerable children that would be a quintessential safety net for their future, (ii) educating, training and sensitising of the community and resource mobilisation to foster families, (iii) providing nutritional support in addition to anti-retroviral therapy and other medical treatment to HIV-infected households to enable the children and their parents to live together for a longer period of time, and (iv) protecting the legal and human rights of AIDS orphans – the inheritance rights of children and preventing land and property grabbing. International attention has a major role to play in developing an “enabling environment” that supports all levels of response. Unless an immediate coordinated and sustained effort with a holistic child-focused approach is initiated for addressing the psychosocial needs of the children affected by HIV, the “orphan issue” will remain “orphan” forever.

AVANJALI SATHPATHY

Chennai

(Continued on p 3736)

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Economic and Political Weekly August 26, 2006

Letters

(Continued from p 3626)

Comments on RBI

I
read with interest Anand Chandavarkar’s response to comments on his own article on an independent federal Reserve Bank of India (July 8-15, 2006). His “response” to my article (October 15, 2005) on central bank reforms indicates that he has completely misunderstood me. Having seen the RBI at work under both regimes – the centralised and liberal ones – I rate the organisation as one of the best in India, if not of the world, in terms of both quantity and quality of work. And I also believe that since the early 1990s, the RBI has stood out as a much better organisation than what it was earlier. Of course, this does not mean that there is no scope for further improvement.

I would not like to give a rejoinder to Chandavarkar’s comments for the simple reason that the language employed in it is not academic in tone. I strongly believe that in the Indian guru-shishya tradition, it is the guru (that is how my generation sees Anand Chandavarkar) who should revel in joy when the shishya gets out of his/her shackles and explains his/her views.

A VASUDEVAN

Mumbai

Satyaranjan Sathe

I
n my tribute to Satyaranjan Sathe (August 5), I did great injustice in the mention of justice Gajendragadkar as being responsible for his exit from Bombay University. Indeed, the reference should have been to the rather autocratic administration of T K Tope as the vice chancellor who enforced the exit. This lapse of recall was rightly brought home to me by V N Rao, also a Sathe student, and I remain grateful to him. I apologise to the readers of the EPW for this unfortunate error.

UPENDRA BAXI

Delhi

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    Economic and Political Weekly August 26, 2006

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