Stop Counseling HIV Patients Government tells Brahma Kumaris

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Stop Counseling HIV Patients Government tells Brahma Kumaris

Post05 Dec 2010

From AIDs, BK Neville Hodgkinson & Pseudoscience
Stop counselling HIV patients at J J Hospital, Government tells Brahma Kumaris

by Ketan Tanna/TNN

Mumbai: The state health ministry has asked a religious group to call off a programme for counselling AIDS patients at J J Hospital citing lack of space. The Brahma Kumaris had been invited by the dean some months ago following a spate of suicides by HIV-afflicted patients.

The room where the Brahma Kumaris counselled the patients and advised them to adopt meditational techniques to counter stress is now shut. Confirming that the Brahma Kumaris had been told to leave, dean of J J Hospital Dr Pravin Shingare said the state government had denied permission for the Brahma Kumaris to stay on. “In any case it was an experimental programme which had to be approved by the government. Yet, I feel they really contributed to the well being of the patients, which is what my professors of medicine told me. I am trying to get them back,’’ said Shingare.

Shingare’s enthusiasm for the Brahma Kumaris is not shared by the Department of Medicine which handles the crucial Anti-Retroviral Therapy (ART) for HIV positive persons. Under the ART programme, J J Hospital treats 2,371 severely AIDS-infected persons in addition to nearly 4,000 patients with the HIV virus who have not developed AIDS.

Free anti-retroviral drugs are given to the 2,371 persons (1,612 males, 758 females, 1 eunuch) every month for six months and later refills are given for two months after six months are over. On any given day there are five to nine new patients and on a crowded day, there are nearly 200-250 patients sprawled across every available inch of space in the ART department on the second floor. From the same place, anti-TB, anti-pneumonia and antifungal treatment are also given to HIV positive persons. Additionally, free condoms are distributed as a measure of HIV prevention.

From one end of the small room extending to another adjacent small room, HIV afflicted persons wait their turn patiently for treatment. If they are lucky, they get a wee bit of space on a wooden bench outside. Since many of then suffer from opportunistic ailments like tuberculosis, the likelihood of infection spreading from one person to another is always a risk. Individual counselling is tough as the resources are minimal and therefore often there is mass counselling.

Since there is lack of space and of resources, anti-retroviral drugs that are sent in bulk packages from New Delhi are stored on the fifth floor in one corner. Often the counsellors or ward boys along with the patients run up and down to fetch the medicines.

At J J Hospital, where space and resources are at a premium, a spacious room exclusively for Brahma Kumaris was indeed a luxury. “What was needed was medical counselling. You cannot invite Brahma Kumaris to come and counsel HIV positive persons. The hospital is not a religious place where non-medical persons are needed and that too in a crucial department like HIV/AIDS. When we in the department are gasping for more trained personnel and more space, I wonder how we can justify such peace meditation,’’ asked a senior person in the ART department.

Earlier this week, the ART department recently became the first centre in India to give free treatment to small children who have been afflicted with HIV virus.

Now with special oral medicines suitable enough for small babies, the ART department has started treating babies though storage and refrigeration for oral syrup is still a problem for poor patients. In addition to the existing 35 children, another 100-200 children are expected to be given treatment under the ART scheme.

The ART department at J J Hospital is also fast becoming the most preferred centre for HIV treatment and patients often come from far off places in Bihar and UP instead of going to New Delhi. And almost all of them belong to the lower strata of the society. The patients, however, do not get any sort of railway concessions.

This despite the fact that the chief of the JJ Medicine department, Dr Alka Deshpande, who is also in the charge of ART treatment, has written to the railway minister, Lalu Prasad Yadav urging him to give railway concession that is routinely given to other medically ill patients who use the railways to travel to any hospital for treatment

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