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Last Updated: Tuesday, 29 November 2005, 16:58 GMT
Vennila: 'My whole life has changed'
Living Positive follows six HIV-positive people, each of them on the same day, in six different parts of the world.

LIVING POSITIVE
Vennila
Thursday, 1 December 2005
BBC Two, 2100 GMT

Vennila, a 26-year-old mother from Namakkal, India, was diagnosed with HIV five years ago.

She contracted the virus from her husband, a truck driver. She also has a five-year-old son, who does not have HIV.

Vennila discovered she had the virus when her husband became ill. He had some blood tests and she and her son were given a blood test at the same time.

"We gave the samples and returned home. Later (the testing centre) phoned and I found out that my son was clear and that I had HIV. I was 21 years old," she says.

Vennila did not know what being HIV-positive meant. At first she thought it was some kind of blood group.

"My husband who knew about it explained that HIV-positive means Aids.

"Once I was told, it took 10 minutes to register. Then I cried my eyes out as if my head would burst."

No explanation

Vennila experienced problems with both her ignorance of HIV and the stigma attached to being HIV-positive.

"I had no knowledge about Aids. When I was diagnosed I was advised to see local doctors and get help. I saw many doctors. All of them said that I should boil the water and drink and eat lots of greens.

At that time I did not know the importance of this tablet which should have been taken regularly
Vennila

"No doctor explained anything. They talked to us in a raised voice. I felt that they spoke without any respect... On the whole treatment was not good."

After spending a great deal of time searching for drugs and advice, Vennila's husband's family got him on anti-retroviral drugs, but they did not come cheap.

"The medication given was very expensive," says Vennila. It was 3000 rupees (37) per box of tablets. We did not mind that. He used to take the tablets whenever he felt low.

"We did not know the correct dosage to take. Certain days he never took it. At that time I did not know the importance of this tablet which should have been taken regularly.

"Then he developed jaundice and a high temperature and all usual problems... He died in the hospital.

"My parents felt I should have been given some treatment. They came and took me and my son to my home town.

Better advice

Her husband's death was a catalyst for Vennila to change her life.

"Within a week of my husband's death, I was saying to myself that I ought to go and enrol in a computer class, which I did, and I also attended typewriting class.

Vennila with her son
I began to realise that I should work and earn a proper living... that I had an illness and that I also had a family to consider
Vennila

"I then went on to attend a women's development course, a certified course lasting around six months.

"After this, I went to a spoken English class where I also practised some written English."

Vennila gets free anti-retroviral drugs because she works at an HIV clinic. Before she took them she was using native Tamil medicine.

"Two people had come to see me from the non-governmental organisation. I was taking Tamil medicine. They told me that I shouldn't be taking this medicine, that there would be side effects and they also made it very clear that this type of medicine would not offer any cure.

"They told me that they themselves were also HIV-positive and helped bolster my courage."

Inner strength

Having HIV has changed Vennila's life immensely.

She admits: "When I didn't have HIV, I wasn't very well informed on anything."

"All I knew about was working and then eating. However, it was only after I was diagnosed with this thing called HIV that I began to realise that I should work and earn a proper living... that I had an illness and that I also had a family to consider, and that I would need a certain strength of mind to protect both myself and my family.

"I also realised that I had to be able to go out and about on my own and so now, I am able to go out anywhere on my own and return home without any fear.

"I feel confident enough within myself to be able to counsel many other people.

"Ever since contracting HIV my whole life has changed."

Living Positive was broadcast on Thursday, 1 December, 2005 on BBC Two at 2100 GMT.

A debate featuring the six people filmed for the programme was broadcast on Friday, 2 December 2005 on BBC Four at 1900 GMT.

SEE ALSO
Country profile: India
14 Sep 05 |  Country profiles

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