For the community of people living with and affected by HIV/AIDS, the month of May is quite significant. First on the calendar is the International AIDS Orphan day that was first observed in 2002 highlighting the cause of children left orphaned by the growing global epidemic of HIV/AIDS. The observation marked on May 7 of every year, was first initiated by Albina du Boisrouvray; the President and Founder of FXB, to bring attention to the millions of children affected by AIDS. One of the mandates of this observation is to call upon Governments to mark out at least 10% of all HIV and AIDS funding to support orphans and children made vulnerable by HIV. While HIV and AIDS impacts upon the health, finances and various other aspects of life of people, one undeniable aspect is that very often children who may themselves be infected or only affected tend to have it tough considering that they often have to act as care givers to their ailing parents in their young lives. By extension, their own emotional and mental growth but significantly, their education is impacted the most since they would have to drop off from school to stay at home looking after parents or younger siblings. Poignantly enough, most children are denied the right to be informed about their own HIV positive status and gradually come to know on their own. In many countries, young people who may be at risk of having HIV and AIDS are counseled and taken through a process of counseling and exposures to help them cope but in India and including Manipur, except for a few project initiatives that involves young people, the majority of children born to HIV positive parents grow up habituated to taking ART without being told why they are taking it. Most of them get to find out by themselves that ART is taken by people who HIV positive and whose immune system are getting weaker. The parents and guardians on their part are fearful of the emotional fall out of possible grief, fear, anger and blame that may come in once children are told they are HIV positive or are at risk. They often do not realize that children grow up and because they are a part of a growing society that is beginning to talk about HIV and AIDS, they do stumble on literature that tells them what ART is and why it being taken.
Globally, even as there are advances being made in terms of medication and therapies there can be no denial that the mortality of HIV and AIDS is still high in the developing countries. This holds true for India and Manipur where the earlier stages of denials and lack of ignorance on one hand and the lack of various treatment options on the other have factored in populations of HIV positive people who have left behind children to fend for themselves. In Manipur where there is often a lack of formal or legal processes of adoption, children orphaned by HIV and AIDS are left vulnerable to family members who may not be necessarily concerned about the child but aim for the property ownership. There has already been a widely reported case of murder of a young man who was killed by his own family members after the death of his parents in Manipur and there is no guarantee that such instances won’t happen again till the time there is a legal protection of the rights and interests of children orphaned totally or left as single orphans with a single parent alive but ailing.
The other significant HIV and AIDS related occasion in May is the International AIDS Candlelight Memorial, coordinated by the Global Network of People living with HIV, which is one of the world’s oldest and largest grassroots mobilization campaigns for HIV awareness in the world. Started in 1983, the memorial observation takes place every third Sunday in May and is led by a coalition of some 1,200 community organizations in 115 countries. The day is set aside to mark the many lives that have been lost in the fight against AIDS. Remarkably enough, the memorial is not just a poignant reminder of what needs to be done and what remains but an occasion for validating the hard won journeys of activists and leaders. Not so surprisingly enough, the observation was first started by people living with HIV, “to give a face to the epidemic”. But even as there are rationales for observations and days set aside for the cause against HIV and AIDS, what needs to be remembered is that the observations in themselves do not become marked only as token events where VIPs can get on stage and spout speeches and hand out token gifts. The real change would be when real term measures and policies are put in place to change the lives of people with HIV/AIDS for the better.