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.
New Life Center offers what its name promises – a new start for the 88 children with HIV/AIDS and their caretakers who were treated at the center in 2012-2013. 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 there, they receive food, housing, and all medical treatment for free.
Opened in 2006, the center can house 18 children and their caretakers for several months. Last year, the center admitted 79 new children – 43 boys and 36 girls, in addition to 9 children who remained from the previous year. More than half of these children were under the age of 5.
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.
Some children have no homes to return to. Last year, four children were orphaned after their parents died of AIDS and were moved to another facility that provides long term care. These children have made friends and are adjusting well to their new home.
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 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 note cards. 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.
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