12/01/2004, 00.00
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Camillians working among terminally ill AIDS patients "like a mother with her children".

The religious of the Snehadaan centre consider the opportunity to serve HIV-positive patients as a "privilege".

Bangalore (AsiaNews) – "Our work with AIDS patients is our life: we seek to follow the example of our founder, St Camillo de'Lellis, who dedicated his life to the sick, basing himself on the example of Christ." Indian Camillian, Fr John Sam, is talking from Bangalore. He is one of the priests who work in the Snehadaan centre, 23km from Bangalore, in Karnataka state (southeast India). The Camillian centre (its name means "gift of love" in the local language) can take in 52 people infected with AIDS. Here sick people are welcomed and cared for, but most of all, they are given the opportunity to live to the full even the final moments of their disease.

The terrible disease of AIDS reared its head in Karnataka in 1998: 1,5% of the adult population is now infected by the virus and diagnosed HIV cases stand at 23,000. However estimates point to at least 600,000 HIV-positive people; 80% fall within the 20 to 40 age bracket. In all India, six million people have AIDS and it is foreseen that this figure will reach 10 million within the next six years.

Opened in 1997, the Snehadaan centre caters especially for terminally ill HIV-positive patients, described by the Camillian priests as "the most forgotten sick people in Indian society". The religious consider their mission of caring for the sick as "our privilege".

So far, 600 sick people have been cared for and treated at Snehadaan. Of these, 200 have died. "We are concerned most of all about giving only one thing to our guests: love," said Fr Sam. "We try to look after them as a mother would her children." Apart from health assistance and links with the nearby St John's Hospital in Bangalore, Snehadaan reaches out to patients' families. Personnel take to heart even the funeral rites of those who have died, as this is an important aspect of life for people from Indian culture.

The work of the Camillians is much appreciated by the local community and government. "In India, it is very difficult for a private institution to receive support from the state," said Fr Sam. "However, the government has recognised our commitment to sick people who are marginalised by society by granting us funds and courses for our staff. This is a sign of how much our work is recognised and appreciated."(LF)
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