Marriages of HIV-infected people rising in Goa

Panaji: Desmond Fernandes and Catherine are no different from a regular couple living in Quepem, a town known for mining activity, almost 60 kms south of Panaji. Parents to a three-year-old girl, Alina, they know their life is short as both husband and wife are HIV positive and had got the infection from different partners. Desmond (43) and Catherine (38) have been married for the last four years but their struggle with AIDS has been on for last one and a half decade. However, their child is negative.

Desmond, who runs a bar and restaurant in Quepem, is living with HIV since last 15 years and when he thought of getting hitched some time ago, it was a bit difficult. "I was feeling lonely and needed a companion. Family was also pressuring me to get married. I sought a help of local NGO for a prospective partner," he recalls talking about his past.

Thats when Catherine came into picture. She was infected with HIV from her earlier marriage and was too living with it since last 15 years. After remarrying Desmond, she conceived a child. Thankfully, their child was saved from the stigma.

"But there are abundant worries. We have a short life. We have to think about future of our child," said Catherine, who helps the family financially with vegetable cultivation and also by preparing paper bags. Medications, new infections, family issues and failing health is burdening the couple every passing day. But the couple has fought back everything holding on to each other.

Like their marriage, union of HIV infected people has become a new trend in Goa, and is also getting social acceptance gradually. Goa reported the first case of HIV in 1987. As per government-run Goa state Aids control society (GSACS) the maiden case in Goa was of a foreigner but following year, first Indian but a non-Goan was diagnosed to be positive in the state. .

In 1989, the first case of a Goan student carrying HIV was identified and since then the state detected 14,223 cases. Last year, the number of deaths due to HIV were 90 while this year, till February itself 12 people died.

GSACS Director Dr Dipak Kabadi said that HIV infection is prevalent in all parts of Goa but majority cases are reported in the four coastal talukas Salcette, Mormugao, Tiswadi and Bardez. Kabadi said that the disease is more prevalent amongst males than females.

The statistics reveal that out of every five cases detected, three were males. There are half a dozen NGOs working in the field of awareness about HIV and also helping the people living with disease from not being stigmatised.

"In supporting persons living with HIV to get married and have a family is an encouragement to help them lead a normal life," said Maria Cardoso, Project Officer with UDDANT, a NGO working in the field of awareness about HIV. Cardoso said that many a times loneliness and lack of companionship leads to neglect of one`s health. "So having a partner does create an environment for better future and longer life," he said.