By Sangeetha Rajeesh
Krishnagiri District, Tamil Nadu
17 May, 2007
Poonkudi belongs to the Chinnamuthu Village near Krishnagiri Dam, Krishnagiri District. She is a Grade VIII student of a local Government school and tested HIV positive in December 2006.
“My brother, Govindraj is lucky, he tested negative,” Poonkudi smiles. This 13-year-old is a bright student and the disease has drained her spirit. She relates how her mother had died of the virus in 2005 and her father in 2006. “The doctors told my grand-parents that my father and mother had died of AIDS and suggested that my brother and I do a blood test to check if we were infected,” she says.
As a child, Poonkudi had no idea what AIDS was about and threw the usual childish tantrums to avoid going to the hospital. “However, volunteers and social workers convinced us and took us to the General Hospital at Krishnagiri and I turned out positive,” recalls the girl. “Poonkudi’s WBC (White Blood Cells) count was not alarming at that time but when she went back for a second test a couple of months later, her count had dropped to 13% and that was when she was started on ART (anti-retroviral therapy),” a volunteer observes.
“I live with my grand-parents after the death of my parents and my grand-father used to bring the medicines from Vellore,” she tells us. Poonkudi’s grandfather is a labourer and most of the time, he is away from Chinnamuthu on work. “My grandfather has not been able to bring the medicines for me because Vellore is out of his way and I have stopped taking ART for the last three months,” the teenager admits. Poonkudi dreams of becoming a teacher one day. “Just like Bharathi teacher,” she chirps, “She is our English teacher and I would love to stand before a class and teach the students.”
Sreedhar, another positive child in the village too lost his parents to the AIDS virus and was diagnosed HIV positive in 2006. Hailing from the Sathlapalli village in Krishnagiri District, this ten-year-old boy studies in Grade V. “I walk almost two kilometers to school everyday,” he declares proudly.
His grandmother sells garments and with her meager income ranging from Rs 100 to Rs 150 per day, struggles to make both ends meet. “We don’t have electricity and so I study under the street lamp till eight in the night,” says Sreedhar, “After all I want to become a doctor!” However, Sreedhar has not been taking his ART for the last two months because his grand mother is too old to travel to Vellore on her own.
The Integrated Counselors and Testing Centres, the Government with support from UNICEF and a number of NGO’s in Krishnagiri district provides free testing for HIV diagnosis and treatment for children.
It is estimated that about 750 children are likely to be infected with the disease in the district. Out of those tested, 102 children were found to be positive for HIV. With the number of pediatric AIDS cases on an increase, the introduction of the ART facility at Dharmapuri (neighboring district) is an urgent need for the HIV infected persons in the district.