India, with an estimated 2.4 million people living with HIV (as of January 1, 2012), is home to the world's third-largest population suffering from the condition (after South Africa and Nigeria). In India, when a parent contracts HIV, children are often forced to provide for the family by working or begging. When a parent dies, his or her children may be left with no one to care for them.
Through Project Food & More, Operation Shanti provides support to those affected by HIV in a couple of ways. PFM provides a monthly care package to destitute HIV+ children who have lost one or both parents and who are now living with a poor relative (usually a grandmother or aunt) who must feed another mouth. Today, the care package is valued at about $20, of which 56 HIV+ children benefit.
PFM also supports destitute women who have been abandoned by their families for being HIV+ with a monthly care package and assistance for medical expenses. This month, Saraswati (name has been changed to protect her privacy) was admitted to the HIV clinic, emaciated and nearly unconscious. Although medical care for HIV+ patients has improved significantly over the years, she was not given the second-line ART medication when she needed it last year after her CD4 count declined, and she subsequently fell very ill. Mom is now in the ICU ward at the clinic, literally fighting for her life. We are assisting her two children, aged 16 and 18, with the medical bills and some difficult-to-obtain ART medication.
Saraswati's two teenage children have stopped attending school to care for mom -- one stays with mom at the hospital and the other works to earn some money for food and other basics. They have no other family available to help them.
Your donation to Operation Shanti's PFM program will help us continue to assist women like Saraswati and children who continue to experience stigma and abandonment by their families. On this auspicious day in India, Maha Shivaratri, we hope and pray for Saraswati's recovery.
For more on PFM, please see http://operationshanti.org/project_food.html.