Living a normal and fulfilling life can be difficult for a person living with HIV/AIDS in India – but for those who have the opportunity to join the HIV/AIDS support group at Ashwood Memorial Hospital, a life of dignity, purpose and spiritual hope is a very real possibility.
With over 2.1 million people estimated to be living with HIV, India has the third highest population of people infected by the virus. While discrimination against those with HIV/AIDS is criminalised under the law, the reality is that there is still a strong stigma surrounding the disease, particularly within the healthcare sector.
For those living with HIV/AIDS, this has a significant impact on mental health, physical wellbeing and job prospects. While they need help dealing with the physical ramifications of the disease, it is equally important for them to receive social and spiritual support.
Ashwood Memorial Hospital was established by Australian Churches of Christ missionaries in 1927, and offers primary health care initiatives to poor rural communities surrounding Daund, in Maharashtra State. With the generous support of people like you, the hospital is able to offer a HIV support program that not only tests and treats patients for HIV/AIDS, but also supports them with counseling, education and vocational training.
Having run for the past 15 years, the HIV/AIDS ministry of the hospital has helped countless people in their journey to lead a dignified and purpose-filled life. Over the years that Ashwood Memorial Hospital has offered the support program, many have found hope and healing.
Simah has lived with HIV for 20 years, and has experienced heartbreak as a result of the disease. At just 13 years of age, she got married and, two years later, she gave birth to her son. When her son was only nine months old, her husband passed away and she found out that she was HIV positive.
Knowing that HIV can be deadly and having been rejected by her family because of it, she grew depressed. It wasn’t until she joined the HIV/AIDS support group at Ashwood Memorial Hospital that she started to regain hope and feel loved again.
“Slowly, my life was changed because I could come to know the living God here,” Simah said. "I realised even though I am sick, there are people loving me! This was inspiring. I started coming regularly for prayer."
While she didn’t have a deep relationship with God before joining the support group, Simah grew to know His love for her and, through that, rekindle her hope for the future. “The greatest miracle in my life is that I am alive."
When Shuvash was diagnosed with HIV, he was overcome with guilt. His neighbours and family started treating him differently, and he lost hope that he would once again find his place in the community.
When he started attending the HIV/AIDS Support Program 18 years ago, he and his family’s misconceptions about the disease were finally addressed. “The misunderstandings were clarified by the staff at Ashwood, and everybody was relaxed,” Shuvash said. “My neighbours and family started loving me again. I feel accepted.”
While life with HIV has not been easy for Shuvash, with periods of serious illness and the loss of his wife, his hope and his faith have made him joyful. He has had the opportunity to see his children grow up, find work and have children of their own.
“I want to thank God for taking care of us. I am happy because I believe in the Lord Jesus Christ.”
When Ramah was told that he had HIV, he felt helpless. When he came to Ashwood Memorial Hospital and joined the HIV/AIDS Support Program in 2003, he received counseling alongside his treatment at the hospital. He was given new hope through his time spent at Ashwood.
“I was told to check my wife for HIV status,” Ramah explained. “I was praying to the Lord that the test would be negative – and it was!” His wife’s negative status was a spiritual turning point for Ramah, and the care of the staff at Ashwood have helped him live with HIV.
“I am not following any other god in this country anymore. I am following Jesus.” While Ramah still lives with HIV, the medicinal and spiritual support he has found has allowed him to live a fulfilling life. His family is happy, with a house and plenty of food. His son and daughter are getting a good education.
“I thank the Lord for the blessings in my family,” Ramah said.
The generous donations of people like you equip Ashwood Memorial Hospital and the HIV/AIDS Support Program to support those who need it and show the love of God to the hopeless. With continued support, Ashwood will be able to continue treating and helping those living with the impact of HIV, giving them hope through the mercy and compassion on display there.