There is a small place in the middle of Chennai, formerly Madras, in southern India that is slowly making a difference in the lives of children affected by HIV/AIDS in the state of Tamil Nadu. It is called the CHES Home (Community Health Education Society), and it is run by Dr. P. Manorama.
Dr. Manorama was the first woman pediatric gastroentologist in Tamil Nadu. In 1994, two children were brought to her who were HIV-positive. No one else would care for the children – no doctors, no hospitals would take them in. Dr. Manorama began caring for them because there was simply no other way they could receive care. She took them in, and that was the start of CHES. Since that time, she has come a long way through trial and error of impacting the HIV/AIDS epidemic in this southern state, as well as the stigma and awareness of the disease. CHES runs a care home for AIDS orphans and HIV-positive children, as well as numerous awareness and education programs for the community.
CHES operates five family resource centers where people learn how to care for stricken families and where myths and misinformation about HIV/AIDS are corrected to reduce fear and slow the spread of the disease. A separate CHES shelter houses and educates 32 AIDS-affected children who have nowhere to live and no family to turn to.
I am surprised and saddened by what Dr. Manorama tells me next. The support and acceptance of these children – foster families willing to take them in – has come from the slums, not from the well-to-do. CHES has not seen any real involvement or support from the well-to-do community, but when unrelated foster care offers began coming in for these children affected or infected by HIV/AIDS, it was from the poor women and families in the nearby slums.
I interview Dr. Manorama in her office
Dr. Manorama tells me, “I have to be a loudspeaker for children, because they can’t speak for themselves. I feel I must speak for them.”
When I ask her what accomplishment she is most proud of having achieved with Ches, Dr. Manorama says, “Not long ago most HIV-positive children were dying before five years of age. Now they are living into adolescence and beyond.”