Loves football and bikes — and happens to be HIV+
“I want to be a football player when I grow up. You know which is the best football team in the world? Brazil.”
I met this nine-year-old fan of the Brazilian football team a few weeks ago. At that meeting he educated me on all the cool cartoons on TV like Dragon Ball, Pokemon and Ben 10. He also told me that he had loads of friends at school. He likes riding his bike, never goes to sleep without completing his homework and likes mathematics the best.
He is Bikash. His father was an intravenous drug user who contracted HIV. He passed away five years ago leaving behind his wife Neeru and son, both HIV positive.
Neeru was 22 when she got married and had no idea that her husband was a drug user. It was only after her husband started becoming very ill and was hospitalised that she found out that he had HIV. He passed away soon after. By that time she already had a child. The doctor who was treating her husband immediately sent both Neeru and her son to get tested for HIV and they found out that the news was not good.
“When I found out, I was in shock. I couldn’t say anything to my husband who was lying in the hospital,” Neeru says, ”I worried about my son.”
She found out more about the disease from an organisation working for women and children affected by HIV and AIDS. She met many women and their families like her there, and she’s slowly started to believe that she will be able to live with HIV and make a good life for Bikash.
She doesn’t regret that she told her family about her condition. She feels fortunate that her family hasn’t subjected her to any discrimination. She’s seen many women who have had to move away from their home to avoid the stigma that comes with it. She lives with her husband’s parents now and Bikash gets a lot of care from his grandmother.
Her biggest fear is for her son. She says that it gives her immense joy everyday to see her son go to school. But she has not told the school about her son’s condition. She has heard about children being denied admission to schools for being HIV positive and suspended from school after finding out that their parents had HIV.
Bikash started taking ARVs (antiretroviral drugs) last year after a blood test showed that he had a low CD4 count (the count is used to asses the immune system of patients). Neeru is also taking ARVs now, which are distributed for free from the government.
Bikash doesn’t know why he’s taking the medicine. Neeru has to mix the medicine with sugar everyday in order to get Bikash to take it. Every time he asks, Neeru tells him: “the medicine will make him strong.”
“He doesn’t like meat, or vegetables so I make chicken soup for him to mix with rice,” Neeru says. “He loves drinking tea and instant noodles.”
Bikash is busy being a normal nine-year-old, going to school, playing with his friends, doing homework, watching cartoons and refusing to eat his vegetables.
As he draws a blue bicycle on his sketch book, I tell him, “If you want to become a football player, you will have to start drinking milk and eat lots of vegetables.” He looked up from his drawing and told his mom, “I will drink milk if you boil some tea with it.”
Neeru and I laughed.
Read about how we’re helping other children in Brazil with HIV/AIDS
To protect the identity of the children, some names and details may have been changed.