HIV/AIDS is a rapidly growing problem in Nepal, fueled by ignorance about HIV prevention and brutal discrimination against people with AIDS. Many children with HIV are forced to leave their schools, and infected women are often abandoned by their husbands. Because of this stigma, many people avoid being tested and hide their symptoms of AIDS for as long as possible. According to a U.N. study, more than 80% of Nepalis with HIV have not been diagnosed.
NYF’s New Life Center is a pioneer in care for children with HIV/AIDS in Nepal. The program provides lifesaving treatment to children while teaching their caretakers, most of whom also have HIV, to live hygienically and cook nutritious meals. This training dramatically reduces the risk of acquiring the illnesses that make HIV develop into AIDS, and lets infected people lead fulfilling lives. During the months that children and their guardians spend at the New Life Center, they receive food, housing, and all medical treatment for free.
Since the New Life Center opened in 2006, it has provided more than 140 HIV-positive children with happy, fulfilling childhoods. Last year, it gave life-saving and life-extending treatment to 63 children and their caretakers.
The New Life Center can house 18 children and their guardians, who live there for several months. It is the only facility in Nepal that uses a comprehensive, holistic approach to helping HIV-positive children. Its nurses, nutritionist, doctor, and other staff provide:
For the children: education and enriching activities
For their caretakers: training in nutrition, health, literacy, and income generation
For both: nutritious meals, 24-hour medical care, and counseling to improve their self-confidence and help them manage the stigma of HIV/AIDS
Most children who are admitted to the Center suffer from health problems such as malnutrition and tuberculosis. Rather than only treating their symptoms, the Center implements a three-pronged approach consisting of clinical therapy, nutritional therapy, and psychological therapy. While the nurses treat the patients’ health issues and give anti-retroviral drugs to reduce the effects of HIV infection, the professional nutritionist and cook plan and prepare healthy, well rounded meals. Professional psychological counselors help the children and their guardians learn to live with the stigma of HIV/AIDS and improve their self-esteem.
The nurses and nutritionist complement the treatment with a series of educational programs for the caretakers. The topics include nutrition, sanitation and hygiene, the dietary needs of children of different ages, reproductive health, and illnesses that commonly afflict people with HIV. This training enables the parents to avoid many of the diseases that are particularly dangerous to HIV-positive people and to eat a balanced diet using inexpensive, locally available foods to keep themselves and their children as healthy as possible. The children also participate in enrichment activities such as celebrating Nepali festivals and taking trips to the zoo.
After several months, when the patients’ health problems have been alleviated and the caretakers are fully trained, they return to their homes. Many live productive lives for years by practicing what they learned at the New Life Center. If they need additional treatment or if their health worsens, they can return to the Center for free follow-up care at any time. The program truly gives new life to children with HIV/AIDS.
The Center’s staff has taken initiative to raise money for the program. In addition to requesting donations from visitors and supporters, they print and sell t-shirts and notecards. They formed a partnership with Heifer International which contributed two cows, who are a source of fresh milk to nourish the children and sell for additional income.
Sustainability of the Program
The New Life Center’s comprehensive care model is a key to its success. Most children arrive at the Center with full-blown AIDS, including illnesses like tuberculosis, malnutrition, and hepatitis, and return home with only HIV, ready to go to school and enjoy a happy childhood. If children with HIV live hygienically, eat a nutritious diet, and try to avoid infections, they can typically expect to lead full and meaningful lives for around 25 years. By that time, it is likely that additional treatments will be available to extend their lives even further.
Two Lives Transformed by the New Life Center
When Sita’s son, who was HIV-positive from birth, came down with a fever, tuberculosis, and other illnesses, the doctors at the local government hospital refused to help him because she couldn't afford the treatment. She was alone, destitute, and heartbroken, until someone recommended the New Life Center.
"After coming to the New Life Center, my son and I both got healthier and gained weight," Sita said. "I learned about a balanced diet, health, and hygiene. I gained self-confidence, and I learned how to deal with discrimination about HIV/AIDS and stand up for my rights." After two months at the Center, she and her child were healthy and ready to resume their lives. Sita is now employed as a social motivator, training HIV-positive women. "At the New Life Center, I became empowered. Now I feel confident.”
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