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The story of AIDS in Madurai
A Ganesh Nadar in Madurai | August 20, 2004 08:07 IST
For a hospital that receives two new cases of HIV/AIDS everyday, one would expect more.
The government-run Rajaji Hospital in Madurai, Tamil Nadu's second largest city, is huge and crowded. The Sexually Transmitted Disease ward is dingy; all beds are full; and patients look like they are just waiting to die.
The head of the STD department, Dr Sarojini, says, "You will have to get the written permission of the government before I can tell you anything."
She can tell a lot.
The Centre of Rehabilitation for Infants and Females is a non-government organisation working in Madurai. It is doing its bit in creating awareness of the dreaded disease and also treating a few patients.
CRIF volunteers worked as counsellors in the STD ward for six months and found that the doctors were telling slightly affluent patients to come to their clinics for better treatment. Worse, they were prescribing very costly medicines.
When the volunteers came to know they tried to help the patients. But for all their efforts, they succeeded in getting themselves thrown out of the hospital.
Maheswari Boopathy is the director of CRIF in Madurai. She says, "Two new cases are reported only in GRH. This is a small number and does not give a true picture. The majority of the people do not go to the government hospital. They are being treated in private hospitals. Only if the government finds out the number of patients registered with the private sector, will the true picture emerge."
GRH caters to everyone in the southern districts. So patients come from far. "We cannot say that the disease is only spreading in Madurai city," she says.
CRIF conducts awareness campaigns in four schools, four villages and six slums every month.
Boopathy feels that awareness is now very high. The government should stop spending on creating awareness and start spending on treatment.
"It is ironical that AIDS drugs manufactured in India are being sent to Africa and America but are not available to the Indians who need it," she says.
AIDS in the south is prevalent in the 15 to 40 age bracket. CRIF itself has 35 patients on its roll who are in this age bracket.
AIDS has crossed over from sex workers to housewives, Boopathy says, and adds, "You will be alarmed by the number of housewives who have sex regularly with 15-year-old boys."
CRIF regularly takes on student volunteers -- it has trained over 300 over the years -- to spread its message.
"As long as we continue isolating the AIDS patients the true dimension of this problem will not be known," she adds.
"The AIDS patient must be accepted as we accept other sick people."
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