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Timely AID

Opened only three months ago, the Selvi Memorial Illam Society, brings succour to the HIV afflicted


ON THE top floor of a rather unassuming house in Tambaram, people lie curled up on mattresses, resting, dozing, reading or just staring at the ceiling. For the past three months, this short-stay home for people living with HIV/AIDS (PLHWAs) has been reaching out to provide basic care to people coming to the Tambaram Sanatorium for treatment.

Run by the Selvi Memorial Illam Society (SMIS), a community-based organisation working for the cause of people infected and affected by the virus, the home has helped out more than 100 people by providing them food and shelter on a short term basis.

"Most people who come to the Tambaram Sanatorium for treatment don't have a place to stay. We charge a minimum for the food and lodging," says Mary Thomas, founder and co-ordinator of SMIS, better known as Meera.

"PLWHAs are susceptible to opportunistic infections, which they can pick up from eating contaminated food," explains M. L. Prabhakar, deputy director - Projects, South India AIDS Action Programme (SIAAP). SIAAP social worker Selvi succumbed to AIDS.

The society works to spread awareness about HIV/AIDs among the general public. Its volunteers visit the homes of infected people, provide counselling, educate them about nutrition and hygiene and refer them to homes and clinics for health care. SMIS also sponsors the education of children with HIV/AIDs or children whose parents are AIDS-infected.

Apart from this, the society's volunteers work to create awareness about the rights of PLWHAs.

This short-stay home is the most recent addition to the list of services provided by SMIS. Patients from rural areas in Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka come to the Tambaram Sanatorium for treatment.

Volunteers conducted a survey at the sanatorium and discovered that what the patients needed most was a place to stay and access to clean food and water, while they came for their monthly check-ups.

The Selvi Memorial Illam provides these facilities at subsidised rates — it can accommodate about 20 people at a time, charging Rs. 30 a day. Food costs Rs. 10 a meal, but none of the patients are complaining.

"Staying in a hotel, would cost double this," says a patient from a village in Andhra Pradesh. "Travelling this far every month for treatment is expensive enough, this home really helps," he adds. Another patient's wife says that she and her husband used to stay at relatives' houses until a volunteer at the sanatorium told them about the society's home. "This is definitely more convenient and the people here do not discriminate against us in any way."

The society, in association with SIAAP, works to strengthen community-based organisations to fight for the legal and human rights of PLWHAs, explains Prabhakar.

So far, SMIS has held two workshops inviting participation from people within the area. The society has no regular source of income, though it receives funds and support from SIAAP and Ranvir Shah of P.S. Apparels.

The society's aim is to be a self-sufficient organisation that is supported by the community in which it is functioning. "SIAAP and I will provide all forms of help for the first five years. We have an exit strategy planned so that SMIS can stand on its own feet," says Shah.

Meera says that there is a lot more to be done for PLWHAs. "Lots of people approach us for help and I'm hoping that the Selvi Memorial Illam can make some change for the better."

Contact the Selvi Memorial Illam Society at 55477048 or 32822899.

SHALINI UMACHANDRAN

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