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India: The orphans of HIV

As orphans grow up, Indian society struggles with another dark side of the AIDS crisis.

Mumbai also has a severe shortage of affordable housing, and the young women may be forced to live in unsafe areas with no privacy or access to services, says Pramod Nigudkar of Committed Communities Development Trust (CCDT), which serves marginalized children and adolescents including those with HIV.

While there has been much improvement, there is still significant stigma against people with HIV in Indian society. If landlords or employers know the women’s health status, they are likely to refuse them an apartment or job, says Sara Lizia D’Mello, the director of CCDT.

“All single women are looked at with suspect,” she says. “And then if HIV positive — it’s total isolation.”

The advocates worry the young women will try to hide their HIV status due to the stigma, causing them to be reluctant to go to the doctor when necessary and possibly not tell sexual partners about their status.

The girls at St. Catherine’s Home express different levels of concern about their future once they leave the orphanage. Sabeena, who was deathly ill before starting antiretrovirals, says she is frightened about leaving. If she gets sick now, Sister Shanti gives her medication and Vicks. When she leaves, she says, she does not know who will take care of her.

The two other girls do not know sickness like Sabeena does. When Pia is asked what happens if she needs medical treatment, she says confidently: “I will not get sick. I will eat well and not get sick.”

The girls rejoin their friends for lunch, and Sister Shanti says: “They have a lot of hope for the future. We have never told them they have a short life.”