urlReflecting the CSW58 priority theme of “Challenges and achievements in the implementation of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) for women and girls,” over the coming months Ecumenical Women will be posting stories about our individual member organizations’ efforts to implement the MDGs. What follows is the fourth of such stories about how EW member organization Medical Mission Sisters works with those affected and infected by HIV/ AIDS in India. This work directly relates to fulfilling MDG #6: Combat HIV/ AIDS, Malaria and Other Diseases. The story is from Sister Regy Augustine Peringarappilly.

Medical Mission Sisters are involved in the field of health and healing since 1925 with women and children as our special focus. All the Millennium Development Goals (MDG) are touched upon by our involvement in 17 countries around the globe, particularly among the people living in poverty. As the UN Representative I had been collecting stories from around the world and here is a story by Sr. Regy on MDG 6. Combat HIV/AIDS, malaria and other diseases.

Sr. Biya Joseph MMS and I are implementing a project for HIV infected and affected people in Iddukki and Kottayam district S. India. The target population is from two southern states, Kerala and Tamil Nadu.  At present 29 families are in contact and getting benefit under this project.

Due to the social stigma attached to this illness, it was very difficult to contact and get the people together. As an initial step, we conducted a few medical camps along with HIV test for the residence of a tea estate.  We could contact four families with the help of some NGO’S. They narrated their practical difficulties such as inadequate financial resources, inability to do work in the field, not able to pay for medicine, lack of nutritious food etc. As a supportive measure they were provided with nutritious food, and reimbursement of medicine. This has lead to an increase in the number of participants, but they were not ready to give their identity or to mingle with each other. We organized awareness classes promoting, positive attitude towards life and Rights of people living with HIV/AIDS besides counseling.

Consequently during our meetings and discussions they were more open to share their life struggles such as experience of discrimination from family members, in schools and hospitals. The group said that “now we feel that we are respected as human beings”.  Gradually they developed solidarity among themselves and felt the need for coming together and to support each other.

They expressed their interest to have some skill training for income generation program, hence we made use of this opportunity to visit their homes to get to know their real situation. We were very respectful to their family members and neighbors as they do not know about the sickness of the person concerned.  It helped a lot to understand their living situations and build a rapport with them.   Some are widows with their HIV positive children working hard to make both ends meet.  We reached out to help with their requests for help from our small project. At present there are seventeen families getting a small income for their daily maintenance from this scheme and they are physically and mentally more healthy and continue their life journey with hope and self esteem.

To sum up, I would say that stigma and discrimination are an everyday experience of people living with HIV/AIDS.  As an epidemic, AIDS affects not just the individual, but the entire family and the community. It emerged as the most dreaded disease not because of the fact that death is certain, but it is due to the stigma and social exclusion that they suffer most. HIV/AIDS is an epidemic of global population and hence it should be a concern of the entire world to educate, support and above all to include them in the mainstream society.