12/01/2010, 00.00
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Aids story: Daughters of Christ’s love for the most marginalised patients

by Santosh Digal
St. Vincent’s Home in Kerala cares for men, women and children living with AIDS and HIV-AIDS. It is one of the many Catholic institutions involved in this field. “We are happy to serve AIDS patients without looking at their differences of caste, creed or language. For us, they are as suffering members of Christ,” one nun said.

Muringoor (AsiaNews) – For the past 14 years, the Daughters of Charity (DC) have been bringing hope and serving the victims of HIV/AIDS. St. Vincent’s Home started in 1996 with 25 patients; now it has 73 (men, women and children). “We are happy to be with them and serve them because we see the face of Christ in them,” said Sister Teresa Pegado, a Daughter of Christ nun at the St. Vincent’s Home.

The nuns take care of AIDS patients and prepare them for a peaceful death. More than 832 AIDS patients have died between 1996 and 2003. Treatment for the patients started in 2003. “We started regular checkups and increased their immunity. Therefore, the death rate began declining to one or two per month.

Some of the children were brought to the rehabilitation home from hospitals just after their birth. “We have the means for all the children to be educated. Our main concerns for them are: medication, rehabilitation and occupation,” Sister Pegado added.

The nuns teach them to make Rosaries. The inmates have daily common prayers, worship and attend Holy Mass. “We also give them classes on faith and morals. They are happy and united as one family. We also arrange for them some entertainment programmes such as movies or taking them for outings,” Sister Pegado said.

The nuns along with other staff who take care of AIDS patients are available to them for all their needs. They help them accept their situation, provide them with counselling and prepare them for a good death.

“At the beginning people were afraid of AIDS patients. The biggest problem that we faced was their burial. We were not allowed to bury them in the common cemetery. Once we had to bring back a dead body because the person who died from AIDS came from a different state,” said Sister Mary Manjooran, DC, another staff member at St. Vincent’s Home.

The second problem was treatment in hospital. As soon as the nuns said that one was an AIDS patient, doctors were so afraid and were not willing to treat them in hospital.

“Once we had to face a lot of problem for a delivery case; we had to shuttle between Trissure to Trivandrum in Kerala State, and then to Kottaym Medical College. At last, the patient was accepted in Kottayam with much difficulty. It was all just because the lady happened to be an AIDS patient,” Sister Manjooran said.

Now things have changed. Many are coming forward to help the nuns of St. Vincent’s Home. Many good people come and show their generosity by serving them. One congregation used to send their seminarians to serve these patients. The situation at the hospitals also has changed.

However, in too many cases, people with HIV/AIDS have been sent away by their families and communities. Some have been denied necessary medical treatment. In some cases, they were even deprived of the last rites before death.

India has a population of about a billion people, around half of whom are adults in the sexually active age group. Its first AIDS case was detected in 1986. Since then, cases of HIV infection have been reported in all states and union territories. However, the spread of HIV in the country has been uneven. HIV is more severe in the southern half of the country and the far northeast. The highest HIV rates are found in Andhra Pradesh, Maharashtra, Tamil Nadu and Karnataka in the south as well as Manipur and Nagaland in the northeast.

The vast majority of patients are heterosexual (80 per cent).

“We are happy to serve AIDS patients without looking at their differences of caste, creed or language. For us, they are as suffering members of Christ,” Sister Manjooran said.

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