After destroying the lives of millions in Africa and Southeast Asia, AIDS is now ravaging India. Today, India is second only to South Africa in HIV infections: official estimates put the number of HIV infected men and women at 3 million. Thanks to the slowness with which the government has responded to this crisis and the inadequacy of the resources it has employed to fight the pandemic, the number is constantly on the rise. Initially confined to high-risk categories such as intravenous drug users and sex workers, the virus is spreading to every age group, every profession, and every caste. Andhra Pradesh has the dubious distinction of being the state with the highest prevalence of the HIV virus: about 10% of the total HIV cases in India live in Andhra.

As AIDS inexorably advances throughout the region, its impact on the people we serve has grown ever more dramatic. Every year, the virus deprives thousands of children of their parents; an estimated 1.2 million AIDS orphans live in India today. In addition, as time goes by more and more of the children we rescue turn out to be HIV positive. Many of Vijayawada’s street children are at high risk of contracting the disease, as their lifestyle constantly exposes them to sexual abuse and exploitation.

Care&Share is committed to fight the spread of HIV and to alleviate the sufferings of children whose lives were so deeply touched by AIDS. Butterfly Hill>> is giving hundreds of HIV+ children and AIDS orphans a new home. The hospital that has been built on the campus will serve as a place where children already affected with the disease can be given adequate medical care. Every child who lands on our doorstep is now tested for HIV. Immediate action is taken if they are found positive. Every child under our care is registered with the government's AIDS Control Programme; s/he is regularly tested and treated with ARV medicine.

Our commitment developed as we witnessed the devastating effects that this disease has on the lives of children. As important as it is to quantify the AIDS epidemic, it’s easy to miss this tragedy’s true import if we overlook its distinctly human face. Every AIDS victim and AIDS orphan has a unique story to tell. We narrate the stories of Gopi and Durga below.






 

Gopi - From an email Carol Faison sent out in 2003. “Two days ago I visited ‘Toti’s Home.’ It is located near the city center, not far from the office, and it is therefore a convenient holding facility for the children we rescue. When they arrive, dirty and disheveled, the runaway children look like little adults. It’s only when a wash and a good meal make them look like children again that you realize how vulnerable they are. The children remain in Toti’s Home as we look for their families and decide where they should go next.

When I last visited Toti’s Home, I found three new arrivals, their heads shaven, dressed in rags: an 8 year old girl, a 7 year old boy, and a little 3 year old - Gopi. So adorable! The three are siblings and have no one to care for them. Both of their parents died of AIDS. In the past months, we have welcomed 40 children to Daddy’s Home - some as young as 2 or 3 years old. Looking at Gopi and his siblings, I thought it was time to give all of them an HIV test. Today, as the testing was going on in Daddy’s Home, I was working in the office. My thoughts were with the children and often wondered what future lay ahead of them.

When the doctor visited Toti’s Home, I went with him because I wanted to be with the children. They lined up quietly. No one cried. The first to be tested was little Gopi. I held him in my arms while the others waited for their turn. I held him tight, praying that he’d be alright - in fact, I knew he had been conceived when his parents were already infected. Gopi remained calm. He smiled. In the meantime, the other children played. It was a dramatic moment, which would have revealed their destiny, but the children looked happy and unaware. The drops of blood that were being drawn were placed in a small dish filled with a chemical solution. The adults in the room stood silently.

Gopi was positive. I cannot describe the pain I felt holding this boy, who is destined to be sick his entire life. I felt pity for his brother and sister, who had already lost their parents and would also one day lose their little brother. I wondered how it would feel to have AIDS in the midst of healthy people who look at you with fear, not with love. All these thoughts and emotions are still with me. I am stunned.”

 

Durga - In February of 2005, a young girl named Durga was brought to us by a man who had bought her at a bus stop from the little girl’s dying parents years ago. Durga’s parents had since died of an AIDS related illness. She has been HIV positive since birth. When Durga was found to be HIV positive, her adoptive mother ran away with her biological children. Durga’s adoptive father, however, loved her and refused to abandon her. He finally brought the girl to us.

Durga was nine years old. When she arrived at our office she was severely malnourished. Her hair was full of lice and falling out, her teeth were rotting. At first, we didn’t think she could be saved, yet we could tell there was still a good fight left in her. We wanted to help this young girl, but we didn’t know how.

Prior to Durga’s arrival, Care&Share had tested 500 out of over 8,000 children in our program, and had found that 15 children were HIV positive. These children were on a special diet and under constant observation, but none of them had ever been in as bad a condition as Durga. Upon Durga’s arrival, the Care&Share staff knew that this case was different.

Our knowledge of HIV/AIDS was limited - and we had no system in place to handle cases such as hers. Far from being just an isolated case, however, Durga is only the first of a series of similarly desperate cases to end up on our doorstep. According to UNAIDS, Andhra Pradesh, contains 8 out of the 41 AIDS “Hot Spots” - areas where AIDS is on the rise- in India. The facilities to treat and care for AIDS victims are few and inadequate.

Durga has never heard of AIDS. She also doesn’t know that she has taught us more about AIDS than any book, news article, or TV special could ever teach us. She has added a human face to the pandemic we have heard so much about.



USA: Care & Share USA Inc. — 223 Double Gate Way — Sugar Hill, GA 30518-8904 — Email: info@careshareindia.org
INDIA: Care & Share Charitable Trust — 40-9-73/6 AVR Arcades 1st Floor — Sai Nagar, Benz Circle — Vijayawada, AP 520 008

EUROPE: Care & Share Italia Onlus ONG — Castello 6084 — 30122 Venezia — Phone: +39-041-2443292 — Email: careshare@careshare.org

AUSTRALIA: c/o Cecil Harper — 15 Barnsley Drive, Endeavour Hills — Vic 3802 — Melbourne — Phone: +61 422313358