Priest works for children whose parents live with HIV




Bhopal: A priest in the north Indian state of Rajasthan is fighting to end discrimination against children whose parents live with HIV.Father Jerish Antony is funding the education of 218 children whose parents have HIV as part of a program run by Ajmer Diocese.Father Antony, who is the director of the diocesan social service center, told that his original mission "was to take care of people with the disease who found it difficult to sustain themselves because of the discrimination they faced."His work began in 2009 when he met a couple who were not aware that a local government hospital could give them free treatment for HIV."They were chased away from their home after they tested positive. As they were weak and unable to get medical help, I helped them get treatment," Father Antony said.The priest started a temporary home for such people at the diocesan headquarters in Ajmer."We don’t keep anyone here permanently and only help them get medical help. Once they regain their health, we ask them to go back to their respective villages," he said, adding that patients can return any time.Working for these patients made Father Antony notice the discrimination faced by their children, especially in education."The children of people living with HIV were not even allowed to attend classes in schools," he said, adding that many children had to leave school after their parents tested positive.The priest said he initially identified 14 children, including dropouts, whose parents were living with HIV and started sending them to schools and arranging funds for their education.He said children living with HIV are shifted to another home in the state capital Jaipur where they get proper treatment along with education, food and accommodation.Rakesh Singh* is one such child who is pursuing an engineering qualification from a college in Jaipur. The 19-year-old lost his father to AIDS 12 years ago."When my father died and my mother tested positive for HIV, I thought I would never be able to go to school again," he said.The same was true for Sharat Singh,* whose father died of AIDS when he was just 5-years-old. His mother, Meera Bai,* who was also diagnosed with HIV, lost her job at an NGO due to the disease.Sharat, who wants to be a police officer, has taken a re-admission exam so he can return to school after he spent years looking after his mother."After the death of my husband nobody from the family came forward to help me and my children. I could not afford quality education for my children due to poverty," Meera Bai told Antony found local donors to help fund the education of the children and works with local private schools to spread awareness among children about HIV/AIDS.The priest has also installed collection boxes in hotels and other public places to gather donations."We do not reveal the identity of the children to avoid social stigma," the priest said, adding that the school principals, however, are informed about it.There were 196,000 new HIV infections in India in 2015, adding to the previous total of 2.8 million, according to a report published in the Lancet journal. The number of deaths due to HIV/AIDS in the country was 103,000 in 2015.UNAIDS estimates that there are about 2.1 million people living with HIV in India, with deaths due to AIDS at about 68,000.*The names of people living with HIV and their children have been changed to protect their identity. 



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