Guiding AIDS victims on how to face death
Bhubaneswar: Ajay Patra is a unique guru. He teaches AIDS victims how to face death.Patra, 39, plunged into the exercise after he was diagnosed with AIDS and told that he had an uncertain future.
The pain of impending death propelled him to look at life afresh, leading to the birth of a network of men and women in Orissa who help fellow HIV positive and AIDS patients to prepare for their final years.
"Only an affected person can understand another affected person better. Approaching a person with AIDS is easier than approaching a doctor or NGO volunteer. They know the same fate awaits us," said Patra, head of the Kalinga Network of Positive People.
An engineering graduate, Patra contracted the disease through infected syringe because he was a drug addict in his student days in Chennai. When he learnt he was HIV positive in 2002, he lost hope.
He then read about a Kolkata hospital that provides one year free treatment. After returning from Kolkata, he decided to help other affected people overcome the trauma.
"I know I will have to live with this disease. I decided to help others," said Patra, who says his family members help him financially now that he does not have a job.
He prompted other victims to go to Kolkata. When some said they did not have money to travel, he arranged monetary help. As word spread, many more people flocked to him.
"Disclosing one`s status is a Herculean task, but only after doing that can one go for treatment," Patra said. "When people came to know that I am HIV positive and helping affected people, my acceptability as a friend increased. Soon many came forward disclosing they had AIDS."
Thus was born a network of similar thinking people guiding AIDS victims how to spend their final months and years.
Initially he tied up with voluntary agencies but felt they were driven more by monetary interests. Later he began the Kalinga Network, which now boasts of about 1,000 HIV positive members.
Patra is not alone.
Bhaskar Behera, Dillip Rao and Amarendra Behera head different groups in different Orissa districts. The Beheras command 600 supporters each.
Rao, who is active in Ganjam district, the worst hit in Orissa, raises awareness among the vulnerable people.
"In Ganjam there is a substantial number of migrant people. They often contract the disease through sexual contacts with affected people outside the state and carry the disease back home," he said.
"Apart from helping in the treatment of those who have been affected, we focus on raising awareness among the migrants," said Rao, who heads the Ganjam Network of Positive People.
The various networks also provide asylum for HIV women who get ostracized once it becomes known that they suffer from AIDS.
"I lost my husband to AIDS. I was blamed for his death. I was shunted out of the house. I left with my kid and now help other infected people," said Prabhasini Pradhan, a coordinator with Kalinga Network of Positive People.
The networks run by Patra and others are proving to be very effective.
Patra said: "Many international agencies are trying to woo us. But we are not here to earn money. What will we do with money when our days are numbered?
"We are here to help others so that they can face life valiantly without going through the trauma we underwent," he said.
India is home to 2.5 million HIV positive people including over 70,000 children below the age of 15 years. Though Orissa is not one of the high risk states, Ganjam is one of the high risk districts in the country.
First Published: Sunday, July 26, 2009, 00:00
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