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Now, legal aid for HIV patients in Tamil Nadu
A Ganesh Nadar in Tirunelveli | April 21, 2008 10:47 IST
Tamil Nadu has been in the forefront in India as far as looking after HIV+ persons are concerned.
There are free testing centres. Patients are given free medicines, free nutrition supplements, a care and support centre where they can stay when the HIV attack is severe and cannot manage on their own.
Now the government has come out with another initiative to help these people. Tamil Nadu State AIDS Control Society, the apex body dealing with HIV patients in the state has set up a legal aid centre in each district. These cells have a doctor, lawyer, social worker and outreach workers to help the patients.
In Tirunelveli district, the legal cell did not have a place of its own. It required the personal intervention of the District Collector G Prakash to force the ART centre to give them space. The ART centre is located in the district General Hospital.
The head of the legal cell is the medical officer in charge of the ART centre. This centre has over 3,000 patients registered with it and 700 are receiving ART first line drugs.
Second line drugs are given only in the government hospital in Chennai.
As this is a place that is regularly visited by HIV+ patients, the legal cell has been set up here. The Medical Officer Dr Mariarajan says, "The HIV+ patient is not treated on par with other citizens. As they are ill, other members of the family take advantage of them. They are not given their property rights and for some even basic fundamental rights are denied. We hope to help them get back their rights."
Social worker Richard added, "It's not always a legal problem; some matters we solve by going and meeting the aggrieved parties and mediating between them e.g. a wife leaving a husband when he is identified as HIV+ for the first time."
The problems usually faced by patients in our society are when the husband dies of AIDS, the infected wife is thrown out of the in laws home. HIV+ mothers are denied access to their own children.
HIV+ widows are denied their husband's property. HIV+ women are denied maintenance when deserted by their husbands. HIV+ girls are thrown out of their parent's home.
The Positive People's network in Tirunelveli has three petitions ready for the legal aid cell. One is from a HIV+ couple who have been thrown out their parents home. Another is from a girl who has been denied her husband's property.
The third is also about property. A HIV+ woman had bought some property. Later, she realised that the seller had sold the same property to two people at the same time.
The legal cell also has two out reach workers who go and meet the patients in their own locality.
They inform them about this new avenue available to them. A good initiative by the government and it is now up to the workers to maintain their enthusiasm to help this marginalised, isolated section of society.