by Julie Cramer Posted on Tuesday, December 13, 2016
Worldwide, 37 million people are living with HIV/AIDS. Two million are children. In fact, the United Nations reports that 400 children contract the virus daily, mostly from mother-to-child transmissions (unaids.org). Yet children under the age of 15 are 50% less likely to receive antiretroviral treatment as people 16 and older.The cost of treatment used to top out around $10,000 for one person’s antiretroviral regimen, whereas today it costs a mere $100. In India, where the HIV epidemic is the third worst in the world, one million people now have access to free treatment, thanks to the efforts of the government’s National AIDS Control Organization. Yet the Minister of Health and Family Welfare, Jagat Prakash Nadda, cautioned on December 1—World AIDS Day—that more work must be done because in states such as Mizoram in the country’s northeast, new cases of the virus are rising among young adults ages 15 to 25.[i]The beginning of Gan SabraMizoram happens to be where Gan Sabra HIV Home is located. This Orphan Outreach-supported children's home began in 2006 when—at an emergency shelter for sex workers—a prostitute gave birth to a daughter with HIV, and quickly abandoned her. A shelter social worker named Lucy scrambled in vain to find a family for the infant, but no one wanted a child with HIV.But Lucy did.She adopted the girl, but lost her job for doing so. Soon, colleagues who had caught wind of her story began asking her to adopt more children with the virus. Orphaned children—either from their parents’ AIDS-related deaths or abandonment—were fending for themselves with no one to stand in the gap.The stigma“Gan Sabra is the only home in the state of Mizoram that cares for kids afflicted and affected by HIV/AIDS and other terminal diseases,” Umashankar(Uma) Shankardas, executive director of Orphan Outreach India, says. More distressing than the stigma the virus carries is the fact that 98% of Mizoram’s population professes to follow Christ, and 40% of the children at Gan Sabra were transferred there by Christian-run orphanages upon discovery of their infection.“Since Orphan Outreach’s response is need-based and long-term, it creates security among the beneficiaries,” Lucy shares. “The future of the children would be utterly bleak without Orphan Outreach’s intervention.”UNICEF reports that AIDS-related deaths among adolescents increased 50% between 2005 and 2012. “Without treatment, one half of infants living with HIV will die before their 2nd birthday.”[ii] Ending the stigma of HIV/AIDS must happen if children are to survive—and grow to live healthy, hopeful lives. The reality is, with treatment and proper care, they can.“The government has done its fair share to promote and create awareness over the years, yet almost everybody has chosen to retain a fear of the disease that causes them to continue to discriminate and stigmatize,” Uma says. “This is even more tragic that—in a state where almost everyone is a Christian and churches exist at every street corner—the story has not changed.”Orphan Outreach smacked into this wall of discrimination repeatedly as they searched for rental properties for Gan Sabra. “Every time we found an ‘available’ house, we were politely refused as soon as the owners heard of the HIV component of our work,” Uma continues. While currently renting a space, Orphan Outreach is working with Lucy on plans for a permanent facility.The solutionRegular, committed teams that arrive to care for the children bring them tangible hope, Uma says. Furthermore, their visibility and consistency is changing the attitudes of community residents and church members.“They see teams come in and spend time with the children in the home and are forced to think about why that is,” he shares. “We have, by our association and regular visits, given confidence to the staff and kids at Gan Sabra that we are there for the long haul. The kids know now that they have a wonderful shot at living out their lives successfully with proper care and now have the hope to consider thinking of their future and what they want to do in it.”Ten years ago, an 11-year-old girl illustrated this fact. Doctors had given her only a few weeks to live, and transferred her to the Gan Sabra home. But, under Lucy's care and provision, she did not die. In fact, she has now aged out of the program and is caring for her elderly grandparents. Part of the key to her continued success is that in addition to the HIV home, Orphan Outreach has begun an important new phase of ministry in the area for families afflicted with and affected by HIV/AIDS.“Many children and families need basic food and shelter. Most of them do not have a means of livelihood to sustain their families,” Lucy says. Therefore, Orphan Outreach and Gan Sabra have launched a community program to address these needs. Families receive medical assistance, nutritional support, and moms and their infants are placed on a baby formula programs to help reduce the transmission of HIV. And, as she does with the children of Gan Sabra HIV Home, Lucy also makes Gospel-focused care a priority for the families, sharing the hope and love of Jesus with young and old.With greater opportunity to care comes greater need for resources.Teams that partner with Orphan Outreach could be the key to maintaining the community program at Gan Sabra. Westport Church in Hillsboro, Oregon, is one such partnership that has adopted the HIV home as one of its ministry priorities. Uma says, "I am praying for another church to step up and partner with Orphan Outreach to provide for the community program at Gan Sabra. At the risk of sounding heartless, let me put it bluntly: we need funds to continue to enable Gan Sabra to meet the challenges of an ever-growing need.”With 2.1 million Indians living with HIV/AIDS, the need is dire. Such grassroots movements are the solution to reduce the trend of rising infections referenced by the country’s health minister.“The families we serve are extremely poor and helpless in so many ways,” Uma said. “The community program’s role is to support each family by enabling them to send their children to school, to ensure they receive medications and testing as needed, and also to provide basic supplies for the home. Gan Sabra HIV Home is maintained through existing financial support, but the community program will remain a challenge without strong partnerships and donors.”Providing time, talent, and treasure is a gift you give to the children and the families of Gan Sabra. Right now, when you make a donation to Orphan Outreach, it is matched dollar for dollar. Your church can be part of the miraculous work taking place at Gan Sabra. For more information, contact Rey Diaz at firstname.lastname@example.org. And you can join an Orphan Outreach team on a mission trip - registration is open right now for July 2017!
[i]National AIDS Control Organization, Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, Government of India, Narrative country progress report of India: Global AIDS Response Progress Reporting 2015