Stigma keeps HIV+ patients off government schemes

'At ART centres, youth are asked how they contracted the deadly virus'

The State government may have been trying hard to implement schemes to help HIV-positive people, but stigma associated with the deadly disease means most of them do not avail themselves of the benefits.

It is mostly the fear of their identity being disclosed that prevents many HIV-positive people from availing of the benefits, according to an official from the Woman and Child Welfare Department. Under Vishesha Palana Yojane (VPY), parents of HIV-positive children are given a certain amount of money to ensure better nutrition for their wards.

For a child cared for by parents, Rs 650 is given, and for those who are under the care of a guardian, an additional Rs 100 is provided, the officer explained. However, only those who have enrolled for the Anti-Retroviral Therapy can avail themselves of the benefit.
Just 6,000 out of 11,000 HIV-positive children in the State have been, however, making use of the benefit, the official added.

The scheme has been launched in Bangalore as well, but there have been just 180 enrolments so far, and some are yet to avail of the benefits.

Radhika (name changed), the mother of a 10-year-old HIV-positive child, said that most people did not know that VPY was rolled out in the City as well. “We have to stand in queues and sometimes when youngsters go to ART centres, they are asked embarrassing questions such as how they contracted HIV,” she added.

The department faces other challenges in implementing the scheme in the City. Transferring the money in rural areas where a few banks operate is easy, but in a city like Bangalore, the process is tedious as there are numerous banks, the official explained.

Besides enrolling under ART, parents need to provide personal details such as address, contact, bank account, etc, as the money is directly transferred to their accounts.
The official admitted that keeping patients’ details confidential was difficult as so many people were involved in the process.

“For instance, a bank manager would certainly know about the money transfer, making it clear that a child in a particular family is infected,” she added.

Anganwadi workers also would have access to the person’s house for routine round-ups and for checking if things work well.

And this is one of the potential factors for most HIV-positive people to opt out of the scheme. “I think it is time we considered HIV as any other disease. This will happen only with people’s cooperation,” she said.

Radhika, who also suffers from the disease, said that it would be better if their personal details were kept confidential as stigma still existed in society.

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