Many people believe that people with HIV/AIDS contracted the disease because of their promiscuous lifestyle. But, such scenario is never the story of any woman and child’s life in New Life Center in Nepal. In fact, the children and women in New Life Center, are actually the victims of their husbands and fathers who contracted the disease from a brothel in India and transferred to them. What’s through sex or birth. What’s more, these women and children are discriminated and abandoned by the society rather than embraced as victims. But, this is precisely why a nonprofit organization based in California, Nepal Youth Foundation (NYF), stepped up to support these true victims of HIV/AIDS in Nepal. Today, the Program Manger of the New Life Center, Ranju Pandey and the Development Director of the NYF, Gregg Tully exposes the HIV/AIDS epidemic among women and children in Nepal in this interview.
ABOUT THE PROGRAM:
Tell us about the program in New Life Center supported by Nepal Youth Foundation
Gregg: The New Life Center was started in 2006. Although HIV/AIDS is a rapidly growing problem in Nepal, very few organizations help children in Nepal who are born with HIV. This program addresses this unmet need through an innovative model. Because the program is extremely effective but has been struggling financially, the Nepal Youth Foundation recently made a long-term commitment to provide funding for it. The New Life Center is a good complement to NYF’s other projects for Nepali children in need.
Ranju: The late Ms. Manisha Singh was a dedicated social worker who devoted her entire life to the welfare of people living with HIV/AIDS (PLWHA). To respect all her actions and aspire to the continuation of her work we started this project by her name Manisha Singh Punarjeevan Niwash (MSPN) where Punarjeevan means “New life” and Niwas means “Home or center”. However, as we seek a broader audience for our center, we have decided to simplify the name to be “the New Life Center” rather than MSPN.
Ms. Singh married into a family of high society where she had the opportunity to observe the impact of luxurious life on teenagers. It influenced her to work with drug addicts of productive age who had enjoyed the privileged life but had little attention from their parents. She was the first young woman of Nepal to work directly with injecting drug users by running a harm reduction program directed specifically toward them. Indeed, this was the first work done directly with this group, one of the most vulnerable groups for contraction of HIV.
Unfortunately Ms. Singh died early, at the age of 29. To honor and respect Ms. Singh’s work and passion for helping HIV-infected children, The New Life Center was created for these innocent victims and given Ms. Singh’s name.
What is the purpose of the program?
Gregg: The New Life Center provides lifesaving treatment for children in Nepal who were born with HIV and cannot afford medical care. HIV-positive children and their parents, most of whom are also infected, stay at the Center free of charge for several months. The Center’s nurses, nutritionist, doctor and other staff provide the kids with 24-hour medical care, meals, education and activities.
While at the Center, the parents receive training in nutrition and health. Simply by following a hygienic lifestyle and cooking highly nutritious meals, the guardians can dramatically reduces the risk of acquiring the opportunistic illnesses that make HIV develop into AIDS. Most of the children discharged from the New Life Center do not even need to take anti-retroviral drugs, which are difficult for people in rural and remote areas to obtain. The Center provides all of its services for free.
HIV/AIDS EPIDEMIC AMONG WOMEN AND CHILDREN
What would be the primary cause behind HIV/AIS epidemic in Nepal?
Ranju: There is no single reason which is increasing the incidence of HIV/AIDS in Nepal. It is a complex issue brought on through many, many factors such as poverty, unemployment, illiteracy, unawareness, migration, urbanization, gender discrimination, an open boarder with India, lack of proper care and actions of parents towards children, stigma and discrimination of society towards infected people, myths and a lack of knowledge generally in society about HIV/AIDS. Based upon the experience of our center, gender discrimination plays a vital role with the above reasons. The results are that children and women are infected in Nepal. [emphasis added with bolded letters]
Nepalese society has assigned different roles to men and women. A man is responsible for earning a salary to support his family (children, parents and wife), and is brought up to believe that his manhood is dependent on his ability to earn a living.
Due to high unemployment and poverty in Nepal, men as the breadwinners of the family are forced to migrate elsewhere to earn money. While working in other locations, they may engage in unsafe sexual behavior, returning to their family with HIV. Given Nepal’s patriarchal society, men are always given priority in terms of mobility, decision making, access and control in every area of life, even in the realm of women’s sexuality. Gender discrimination is reflected in women’s poor negotiation position and their inability to say “No” or “Why” to any decision of a man (especially of her husband). In large part, this is why more than seven out of ten HIV infected women are housewives who contracted the disease from their husbands and later, the children also are infected by birth. Not only are they uneducated about HIV, those who are aware of the disease are not able to ask their husbands to use a condom.
A woman is considered to be a commodity that can be used by men according to their desire and as a breeding factory. Due to lack of access, control and decision making capacity, women are less confident, grow up with an inferiority complex, and learn tolerance for behavior that is expected by society. Males are more exempt within their family and society and are considered as superior. Men grow up with a superiority complex and are therefore less able to cope with failure in their lives, whether it is in love, marriage, business, study, etc. As a result, they are more prone to turn to addictive substances as a coping mechanism. This is why 98% of people in Nepal who were infected with HIV by drug injection are male .
Gregg: a major cause of the prevalence of HIV/AIDS in Nepal is men leaving their families to seek employment. Because the country’s unemployment rate is close to 50%, it is now very common for men to travel to a distant city or another country for work. While they are away from their families, they are more likely to have multiple sexual partners and acquire HIV. The most common country that Nepali men travel to for work is India, and HIV in Nepal is most prevalent along the Indian border. Most of the children who have been treated at the Center acquired HIV because their fathers became infected when they went to work in another country.
Can you explain further in details about the cultural factors involving sex outside of marriage in Nepal, i.e. men’s view of sex or women in Nepalese culture, etc.?
Gregg: In many ways, Nepali culture is traditional. Families are a very important part of people’s lives, and people are generally very dedicated to providing for the members of their families. However, in recent years, unemployment has become such a severe problem that many men now travel far from home to find jobs, often in other countries. When they are away from their families for such a long time, they are more likely to have other partners and not tell their families.
What about the program do you think that makes it unique or effective?
Gregg: The New Life Center is the only facility in Nepal that uses a holistic approach to helping HIV-positive children. The Center’s Comprehensive Care Model includes medical care, nutrition, education and counseling, and extracurricular activities. Children and their parents (most of whom are also HIV-positive) receive medical treatment for any illnesses they have. The Center’s staff provides them with healthy food and teaches the parents to grow nutritious vegetables at home and prepare balanced meals. The guardians are trained in topics such as health, hygiene, and nutrition, and a teacher comes to the Center to educate the children. The parents and children receive counseling to build their self-confidence and help them cope with the stigma of AIDS in Nepal. Staff and volunteers enrich the children’s lives through games, outings, and other activities.
The New Life Center is so highly regarded that its staff now provides training to people who manage other projects for children with HIV/AIDS.
HOW TO SUPPORT
How can people support the initiative or this program?
Gregg: People can support the New Life Center by visiting www.NepalYouthFoundation.org and making a donation. We would like to start a community outreach program about HIV awareness and prevention, as well as conduct follow-up visits with children who have been discharged from the Center to ensure they are healthy and eating nutritious food. We also hope to build more Centers in areas of Nepal where child HIV/AIDS is especially prevalent.
Where can people find more information?
More information about the New Life Center is on the Nepal Youth Foundation’s website at www.nepalyouthfoundation.org/programs/health/newlife.html. The Center also has a blog, www.mspnnepal.wordpress.com (in Nepal, the program is called MSPN).