07/02/2007, 00.00
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Hospital bans HIV-positive woman from delivery room, husband alone to help her give birth

by Nirmala Carvalho
Doctors refuse to come near HIV-positive woman. Only her husband helps her through hours of labour to give birth to their child; he also cuts umbilical cord. Problem is widespread in hospitals, schools and villages. Bishop of Bangalore says Church is against discrimination, defends the right of HIV-positive patients to healthcare.

New Delhi (AsiaNews) – When Sunita felt the start of labour pains last Tuesday, she went to the Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel Memorial Hospital in Meerut (Uttar Pradesh). When the medical staff, doctors and nurses, found out she was HIV-positive they refused to help her, and did not even let her inside the delivery room.

Alone, her husband Rahees Abbas was forced to deliver his own baby. “The doctors came to the labour room and asked me to pull out the baby and then cut the umbilical cord,” he said.

Standing at a distance, the staff told him what to do. “I followed their instructions and after that they asked me to clean up all the blood and burn the waste.” After the operation none of the doctors inquired about the “health of either the child or the mother.”

Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Mayawati ordered the suspension of two doctors of the Meerut Medical College, the Acting Head of the Maternity department Dr Abhilasha Gupta and office assistant Dr Urmila, on charges of medical negligence.

Neither of the two was present during the delivery.

Mgr Bernard Moras, archbishop of Bangalore and chairman of the Commission for Health Care of the Bishops’ Conference of India, told AsiaNews that “the Church in India in its HIV policy has clearly stated that no one can be discriminated for being HIV-positive. More specifically no one, including people with HIV, can be turned away from any Church run hospital.  HIV-positive patients must be given the very same humane treatment as any other human being.  If a anyone is turned away from our hospitals because he or she is HIV-positive it is wrong and totally unacceptable and I will not allow it.  If it is brought to my attention that such a thing takes place in Church hospitals, I will personally write to the hospital authorities and see that action is taken against the doctor and ensure proper treatment for the patient.”

Dr Wilma Carvalho, a practising doctor at the St. Ignatius Hospital in Honavar (Karnataka) said she was not surprised by the incident. “In rural area, we have a big problem with HIV cases.  Many doctors here refuse to even treat patients.  In some hospitals, if a person is suspected of having HIV, they are kept in the hospital basement and when the HIV tests are positive, they are sent home.  In some other hospitals, those without a blood test aren’t even allowed to enter the hospital.”

“In St. Ignatius we have a ‘Respect for Life Centre,’ which is directly run by the bishop of Karwar, so HIV patients are treated with anti-retroviral therapy and counselling,” she added.

The problem is event greater in small villages. In addition to battling the disease, HIV patients also have to battle prejudice and ostracism.

This is a nation-wide problem. For example in the state of Kerala, the High court ruled last Wednesday that the Mar Dionysius Lower Primary School in Pampady had to ensure that five HIV-positive children admitted to the school last year be allowed to continue their education and not be discriminated against.

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