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INDIA: New Pilot Program Provides Treatment and Hope for Youth with HIV

(MissionNewswire) The first case of HIV/AIDS was reported in India in Tamil Nadu in 1986, and today there are 5.7 million people living with HIV/AIDS in country, according to UNICEF. Close to 38 percent of those infected with HIV are women, and 55,000 to 60,000 children are born every year to mothers who are HIV positive. UNICEF notes that without treatment, these newborns are at a 30 percent risk of becoming infected during the mother’s pregnancy, labor or through breastfeeding after six months. It is estimated that India has more than 220,000 children infected with HIV/AIDS.

Entrenched gender inequalities, chronic and debilitating poverty and stubborn persistence of HIV/AIDS-related stigma and discrimination significantly contribute to the continuing spread of the infection and hinder those who test positive from seeking treatment. Even young children with HIV/AIDS have been rejected by their families and local communities.

In response to the overwhelming need for HIV/AIDS care in the country, Salesians in southern India opened Don Bosco Care Home in the village of Nilavarapatti located in the district of Salem in Tamil Nadu in August 2011. The home serves as a pilot program that provides treatment and a safe space for young boys that have HIV/AIDS who have been abandoned by their families.

At Don Bosco Care Home approximately 50 young boys receive counseling, recreation opportunities, medical observation and critical antiretroviral therapy treatments (ART). Some of the boys live at the home and have access to services and educational programs there while others, including those who attend the local polytechnic college, have access to the program’s ART treatments and then return to their own homes.

Don Bosco Care Home was started as an extension of Don Bosco Anbu Illam, which provides shelter, counseling, education and support services to poor youth in the region. Having been established in the local community for many years, the Salesians in Salem are able to assess the critical needs of poor youth and create specialized programs to meet those needs.

“Salesians are excited about the success of this pilot program and eager to engage in the continued care of these special kids,” says Neill Holland, program officer at the Salesian Missions Office for International Programs. “We’ve learned through this program that Salesian strengths in youth development, psychosocial counseling and coalition building between local communities, the private sector and state-run agencies translates well into improving the lives of those affected by HIV/AIDS.”

Reaching people with HIV/AIDS is half the battle in India. There is such a stigma surrounding HIV that most people do not wish to discuss it and are hesitant to seek out information, counseling and testing. Don Bosco Care Home also promotes public awareness campaigns in the community to help educate and sensitize people about HIV/AIDS and issues surrounding the diagnosis.

The program has been particularly effective because the youth are able to study and build peer relationships in a safe and supportive environment free from the stigma and rejection they previously encountered. Recently, Salesian Father Daniel Sebastian, director of Don Bosco Care Home, was granted an award by the district of Salem for the best service in the field of HIV/AIDS for the year 2013.

“This program has a unique impact on the community by influencing attitudes and cultural stereotypes away from the maltreatment of individuals affected and toward a more informed and supportive stance. When it comes to children’s care, this couldn’t be any more important,” adds Holland.


Don Bosco India – Salesian awarded for best service in the field of HIV/AIDS care