Published: 15th December 2018
This HIV positive lady from Belgaum is helping many girls like her. Read her story about how she fought back the disease and discriminations in the society
This HIV positive woman from Belgaum is no less than a hero to others like her. So far, she's taken 11 HIV positive girls under her wing and aims to create facilities for thousands more
Twenty years ago, when Nagaratna Sunil Ramagouda was told by a doctor that she and her husband are HIV positive, her dreams were shattered and she had no hope of living beyond three months. But a few years later, she emerged a hero to many HIV positive people in the North Karnataka region. Now, she is working to create awareness about HIV among college students, industry employers, employees and pregnant women.
Nagaratna is a native of Belgaum. The now 35-year-old married Sunil Ramagouda when she was just 17. Sadly, her husband passed away five years ago, but that did not break her spirit. But what about when she found out that she was HIV positive? Nagaratna narrates, "A few months after we got married, my husband went to donate blood for one of his friends. But the doctor told him that he couldn't donate as he was HIV positive. The very next day, he took me for a blood test and my result was positive too. We were told that we would not survive more than three months. There was no counselling and no one to guide us."
Under her wings: Nagaratna has been taking care of 11 HIV positive girls and she aims to create a better future for them
Understanding the gravity of the situation, she and her husband decided not to have children. But there was societal and family pressure to face. "We had not disclosed our HIV status to family or friends. So, there was a lot of pressure to have a child. We had approached a doctor and he suggested that with the right medication, it was possible for us to have an HIV negative child. Soon, my son was conceived and after his birth, we got him tested and fortunately, he turned out to be HIV negative," recalls Nagaratna, whose son is now 16 years old.
When their son's test results turned out to be negative, Nagaratna felt the urge to give back to society. She says, "There are many women like me who are unaware of the small yet important steps they have to take during pregnancy. They need to be counselled and should be given moral support that boosts confidence in them. To this end, I started counselling many of them and telling them about the medicines they need to take to keep the baby safe. Apart from this, there are various health schemes that the state and central government provide, especially when the person falls below the poverty line."
Nagaratna counsels over 50 HIV positive people on the phone every month. This programme is called 'Phone-In Counselling'. She has reached over 29,000 people in the North Karnataka region
But it didn't stop there. With a view to reach as many people as possible, Nagaratna started an NGO called Ashraya Foundation. "Prevention, care and support are three components involved in creating awareness among people. When we approach college students, we mostly talk about prevention. In the case of industry employees and employers, we talk about ways to tackle health issues when they find out they're HIV positive. Here, I give my life as an example. After these sessions, many people have got themselves tested and come to me for further help and support," she says.
Aside from creating awareness, she now takes care of 11 HIV positive girls. "These 11 girls are over the age of 18. Due to the risk involved in caring for HIV patients above the age of 12, the government does not have any shelters for them. Even parents abandon them. While some girls are preparing to face their final Board exams for class XII, some are learning various computer courses like Tally and DTP. Once they complete their studies, I want to find them employment. Right now, I depend on funds from local donors and friends who know my work. The monthly expenditure comes up to ₹40,000, including food and medical expenses. But I am happy that I'm empowering them to lead a good life, which they deserve," she says humbly.
Empowering women: Ashraya Foundation has tied up with a private company in order to manufacture and supply school bags
Although Nagaratna could not complete her studies before getting married, she recently completed her PUC 1 and 2 and graduated in Arts from Karnataka State Open University. She plans to pursue a Master of Social Work degree soon. But greater than her will to educate herself is her vision to create educational and medical facilities for the 3,200 odd HIV positive children in Belagavi. "Due to lack of awareness about the disease among mothers, these children are infected with the virus when in the womb or through breast milk. According to my information, there are over 3,199 such children in my district alone. Henceforth, my dream will be to make these children's dreams come true," she concludes.