A dedicated team gives palliative care to terminally ill patients suffering from AIDS and cancer. An outpatient clinic, open daily, provides free medicines for the poor and helps people with HIV in particular.
When people are first diagnosed HIV+, they are usually in deep shock. They worry about their future life, knowing that they only have a limited number of years ahead. They worry about revealing their diagnosis at home and to friends, knowing about the associated stigma. The fully charitable, 25-bed, Amrita AIDS Community Care Center in Thiruvananthapuram, provides a supportive and safe environment for them to come to terms with this crucial life-changing event.
Two part-time doctors, three qualified nurses, one counselor, three health workers, four outreach workers, a project coordinator, two cooks and two janitors make up the staff at the Center and ensure its smooth functioning.
Those diagnosed HIV+, are referred to as clients. The term "patient" is used only if the client, the HIV+ person develops a secondary infection. Due to suppressed immune systems, they are especially susceptible to opportunistic infections.
The Government of India makes Anti-Retroviral (ATR) medication available to all HIV+ people. If they strictly adhere to the medication routine, then opportunistic infections can be kept at bay and the life of a HIV+ person can be increased, by even upto 20 years.
State-supported Community Care Centers help those diagnosed, begin their ATR medication routine. In Kerala, there are seven such centers; the Amrita AIDS Community Care Center in Thiruvananthapuram is managed by the Mata Amritanandamayi Math.
As per the state mandate, when a client is first diagnosed, he or she can stay in the Center for upto 30 days. The clients receive the instructions and the support needed to begin the very strict Anti-Retroviral (ATR) medication routine; they take the medicine twice a day with an interval of exactly twelve hours. If, for instance, the first dosage is taken at 9:00 am, then the second is taken exactly at 9:00 pm. Clients have to adhere to this strict schedule for the rest of their lives.
"Vegetable and mushroom cultivation, making soap or silk flowers are some of the occupational therapy choices available to clients. The mushrooms that are grown are rich in nutritional qualities and are used to enrich the menu at the Center."
he ATR drugs worth Rs. 2500 per month, per person, are sponsored by the Kerala State Aids Control Society. Sometimes clients come back again, if they have developed further complications or if they suffer from the side effects of these drugs, like nausea or depression.
Another important aspect of support for HIV+ clients is providing them with a healthy diet. The Center provides well-balanced and nutritious meals daily. Two glasses of milk, fruits, eggs, fish and chicken supplement the staple meals of rice and sambhar.
Even after being discharged, those in need receive material assistance such as groceries, clothes and notebooks for children. Special gifts are given on festive occasions such as Onam and Christmas. Vidyamritam scholarships are awarded to students.
Anup and Arya (names changed), for example, are both HIV+. This couple was sent directly by Amma to the Center. Amma told the administrator that since they were poor, in addition to the therapeutic and medical assistance, they had to be regularly provided food and clothes.
The holistic approach of the Center, with its peaceful atmosphere, encompasses several other activities. Vegetable and mushroom cultivation, making soap or silk flowers are some of the occupational therapy choices available to clients.
The mushrooms that are grown are rich in nutritional qualities and are used to enrich the menu at the Center. After discharge, clients may continue cultivation on their own land, for their own consumption or for additional income.
Daily before lunch, from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m., those who are spiritually inclined can attend a bhajan and satsang session. "Since we have clients from all religious denominations, participation in any spiritual activity is voluntary," explains Bri. Kartika, the Center Administrator.
A qualified nurse, Bri. Kartika has been in charge of the institution since April 2008. Despite still being in her early thirties, she already has considerable experience serving in Amma's charitable hospitals. Eight years ago, while staying in Amma's main ashram, she was doing selfless service at Amrita Kripa Sagar Hospital, when in 2004, she was sent to take care of terminal cancer patients in the Mumbai Hospice.
"Our Community Care Center helps clients to see that others, who have also been diagnosed HIV+, are able to live relatively normal lives with their condition," she adds.
The counselor, who has an MSW degree, maintains confidentiality and plays an important role in helping clients overcome the shock of the initial diagnosis. Individual advice is provided regarding how to lead a normal life as far as possible. Some of the clients were diagnosed several years ago. Peer group counseling is useful in providing mutual support and overcoming social isolation.