Everyday Christian: International AIDS problems which receive the most attention seem to be in Africa. How widespread is the problem in India and is it growing?
Mohapatra: HIV/AIDS in India is growing at a rapid rate. Local surveys show that India could be sitting on a time bomb with AIDS and, in fact, given India’s population could easily overtake Africa in total numbers in the future. There continues to be a problem with access to diagnosis as well as availability of ARV (anti-retroviral) drugs. The pandemic is most widespread in the southern states of Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu and Karnataka.
Everyday Christian: How available are the anti-retroviral drugs? Are domestic pharmaceutical companies able to meet needs or do much of the drugs need to be imported?
Mohapatra: Yes, there are local pharmaceutical companies making ARV drugs. They are reasonably priced compared to those imported from the U.S. or Thailand. In some areas the state government provides the drugs free of charge to people living with HIV. The Bill Clinton Foundation and others are also providing ARV drugs in India. Access remains an issue in some more rural areas.
Everyday Christian: Traditionally India has had a pretty hierarchical social structure. What social impact does contracting AIDS bring?
Mohapatra: It’s a mixed bag in many areas if India. In the more rural areas, there is still a stigma attached to HIV/AIDS. In some cases, persons who are HIV-positive are taken off the roll by their family. In areas where the government is intervening with health programs, there is better access to diagnosis and treatment.
To reduce stigma, some of the state-run TV stations are running ads to say– they are just like us, it is OK to touch those infected by AIDS, have them in your home and to provide assistance to them.
CCF-India has had significant presence in India for the past 50 years especially in the south. Our success has been in working with local grassroots partners who have a direct linkage to local families. In local communities where CCF-India has worked in Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu and Karnataka, there has been a significant change.
In Andhra Pradesh for instance, CCF has been working with children infected or affected by AIDS. We provide care and counseling, household security and income generation support. Through local partners, we have a strong micro-credit program and provide micro-finance loans in local communities.
All CCF projects are involved in the “Linked Worker Scheme,” (LWS) where we train community level workers to provide counseling, care and support to AIDS-affected families and link them with health services. With the help of local governments and partners we provide ARV drugs to families and work with local youth groups in prevention efforts for contracting HIV/AIDS.
In addition CCF-India supports programs that reduce vulnerability to HIV in local communities and as a result there has been a significant improvement in the quality of education both in terms of teaching and learning. One-hundred percent of girls are now attending school and graduating from high school and many pursuing college degrees. Livelihood opportunities have been afforded to youth through CCF programs–100 percent of youth are employed or self-employed in these communities where they live. In areas of India where livelihood training and opportunities have been made available in rural communities, the migration from rural to urban areas has declined. There is also more access to information and a more open culture.
Everyday Christian: How is the escalation of an international business presence positively and negatively impacting impoverished Indians?
Mohapatra: It is more positive than negative mainly because people have more access to employment and higher incomes. There is a different skill set required in the area of retailing and marketing and it has been seen as an opportunity for more middle- to lower-class citizens. There has been an influx into many urban areas as a result.
The negative impact is that when the economic situation is better, there is now the issue of layoffs which are affecting the social structure. This is especially true among the youth, where jobs were more secure before, they are having trouble coping with the increased potential of layoffs in the international business sector.