Desperate acts by Goa’s HIV+

PANAJI: The tragedy is not that they are dying, but that they want to die so that they can live. Already living desultory lives, shunned by society and suffering terribly, many HIV positive individuals are prepared to get sicker, and all for just a thousand rupees.

Since the state finance minister announced Rs 1000 a month to those put on antiretroviral treatment (ART), HIV positive persons are looking at this financial bonanza as a way out of their financial straits.

Preetu Nair, for Times of India.

“HIV positive people are increasingly asking to be put on ART without understanding the complications linked with it. This is happening with speculation that the compensation of Rs 1000 will be only given to those on ART,” says Sofia, of the NGO Rishta working with HIV patients in North Goa.

Mahesh Govekar of Zindagi, an NGO which runs a drop-in centre for HIV/AIDS patients in South Goa, said, “Many HIV persons are desperate to get financial help as it fills them with a sense of security to fight social criticism. There are several doubts in the minds of the HIV positive persons about the scheme. But once we counsel them, they tend to understand.”

Forty-five-year-old Charles, an HIV positive individual, is praying and working to ensure that the next time he goes for a blood test, his CD 4 count shows less than 200 (very low immunity) and that he is immediately put on ART.

“I need the money to run my home. If being HIV positive and healthy means being denied the Rs 1000 benefit, then it is better to be ill. At least I can be of some help to my family,” said Charles.

“I am happy to be on ART,” said Sheena from Calangute. “This means that I can give a better life to my three children, one of them suffering from HIV.”

Goa State Aid Control Society deputy director Elmira Pereira said, “Every patient put on ART would be given Rs 1000 at the ART centre.” About 510 patients currently on ART will benefit from the scheme, which has upset some of the 10,000 odd persons living with HIV/AIDS. Under the scheme a person gets financial assistance of Rs 1000 per month in the first year which will increase at the rate of 5% annually.

But what these patients don’t realize is that they are playing with their lives, as a CD count of below 200 can be dangerous. Once a person is started on ART this treatment will have to be continued with always.

Doctors say that an HIV positive individual has to follow a strict diet regime and lead a healthy life to maintain his health. “If their CD 4 count goes below 200, there is destruction of immune cells and the body’s ability to fight infections decreases. Such patients are more susceptible to opportunistic infections and need to be put on ART to improve their immunity,” said Dr N G Dubhashi, head, department of medicine, Goa Medical College.

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