For the last year, an anganwadi at a village at Mayyil grama panchayath in Kannur district has seen no children. The reason: Local residents believe that the helper at the anganwadi is HIV positive, transmitted from her husband. An awareness campaign conducted by the Health and Social Justice Departments have done little to ward away the ignorance and the stigma that the villagers associate with HIV positive persons.
The issue came to light on Monday, after Asianet News reported about it. The local MLA, James Mathew, claims he, too, came to know about the issue only three days ago. “Before that, only the people in the village knew what was happening,” James Mathew tells TNM.
“The local people suspect that the woman is HIV positive, and since she is cooking food for the children, they believe that it could spread to the children through her blood, if her hand is wounded while cooking,” James says.
The 51-year-old woman, Maya’s* husband was HIV positive – a fact that came to light two years ago, when he met with an accident in Mangaluru. “In April 2015 her husband got injured on his leg and had a test done at a hospital in Kannur. Through a nurse at the hospital, the news that he was HIV positive spread in the village,” a local resident says.
While Maya is now estranged from her husband, that hasn’t stopped people from associating her with the infection.
“She, too, took a test to check if she was HIV positive, several months ago. Another anganwadi staffer accompanied her for the test. But on the day she was supposed to get the result, the hospital staff said they would give it only with the Maya’s consent. Maya, perhaps out of fear, did not consent to receiving the result. The other staffer then told the villagers that the result was untold – and the villagers for their part assumed that the result wasn’t given because she was HIV positive,” James explains.
Maya took leave for several months on the job as parents refused to send their children to the anganwadi. Fifteen children used to come to the anganwadi, but only when she was on leave.
“Then she approached the collector and got an order in her favour. But despite that, the children didn’t come to the anganwadi for the last year. The panchayath then informed the authorities concerned and they did awareness camps to sensitise the parents. But it all worked only for a few days,” James says.
The MLA says his next plan is to go on a door-to-door campaign to create awareness about HIV and ask parents to send their children to the anganwadi.
“We can try to shift the woman to some other department, but I fear she would feel socially alienated if we do this. Let us try to keep her here at the anganwadi itself and see how it would work,” James Mathew says.