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Bel-Air is a hope for People living with HIV/AIDS

"Six- months back when I learnt I am HIV positive I had almost lost hope to live. I could see and feel the abhorrence in the attitude of the people whom I knew. Parents stopped sending their children to the Aaganwadi where I used to teach. They had the fear that if I served food to their children they'll also get HIV. I wanted to end my life but someone guided me to go to Bel- Air and that changed everything. Bel-Air has given me hope, happiness, direction, faith and a family as my marriage was solemnized with another volunteer, an HIV positive on July 12th 2007 by Father Tomy" says Vimala Prasad *, a volunteer with Bel-Air Sanatorium & Hospital, Indian Red Cross Society at Panchgani.

Sprawling gardens, lush greenery and pleasant atmosphere spread almost in 44 acres of land. That's Bel-Air. A hospital & sanatorium, which has prominently brought Panchgani on a world map. It was established in 1912 by Dr. Rustomji Billimoria in the land donated by Sir Dorabji Tata for the patients suffering from tuberculosis.

Dr. Billimoria transferred the management of the hospital to Indian Red Cross Society in 1965. Since then it has become Red Cross project and when it came under the supervision and leadership of Father Tomy Kariliyakulam, it reached greater heights. Today Bel-Air is a full-fledged general hospital with 250 beds having the departments of general medicine, Orthopedics, Paediatrics, Gynaecology, TB and HIV medicine. There are also weekly clinics for Ophthalmology and Skin & VD. There is a modern dental clinic, ICU and operation theatre block, which are the best in the district. Bel-Air has also the facilities like Pathological Laboratory, X-ray Laboratory, ECG and sonography departments. Medical staff are on duty in shifts for 24 hours a day. Many of the workers and drivers are HIV positive. There is a fully equipped kitchen, which provides food for the patients as well as for staff. The food served to patients and staff is the same.

Anuradha Kame*, 26 years of age and a volunteer with Bel-Air is HIV positive. She is looking after the other HIV/ AIDS infected patients for past three years. She narrates the darkest phase of her life by saying" When I was detected, I felt miserable and devastated. I went to a temple and cried overnight. I was seven months pregnant. My sufferings augmented as soon I lost my husband and newborn child. My only worry was that what would happen to my daughter who was HIV negative, if I kill myself. My doctor advised me to visit Bel-Air and that became a turning point". She further said "I could feel the change in my life. Bel-Air is my home now. From doctors to sweepers, all are kind and humble towards people living with HIV/AIDS. I don't even know how the time passes away. I'll like to say that if one can live with this disease, then why live with worries and tensions. Why not live happily".

The hospital has a dedicated staff that treats the patients with great compassion and care and all this becomes an exemplary example of humanitarian values, which were never preached but are so perfectly inculcated in them

Sister Mettysd, who belongs to the Sister of Destitute Congregation is associated with Bel-Air for past 15 months. She works day and night and serves the sick patients. She says, "I feel contented by healing the patients and try my best in bringing some hope in their life".

Bhawna Shinde, a doctor working with Bel-Air says "Working in the field of HIV was my sole aim and I really wish that other doctors should handle patients without discrimination and nourishing any stigma. We are nobody to judge others character or point out what mistakes one has committed. We all should come together in containing the pandemic".

Somnath Pandu *, a HIV positive is working as a driver with Bel-Air for the past six years. He says, "When I came here for the first time. I was afraid that how will I live with this disease? I had almost given up. But, people out here helped me a lot; whether doctors, nurses, other staff or patients. My will power increased and I took up the challenge to live with this disease".

Malti*, a HIV positive patient is undergoing treatment at the hospital. She says, " Bel-Air is like a home to me with caring doctors and sisters, good food and peaceful environment. I don't feel that I am sick".

Bel-Air is surely a model in itself as it homes people living with HIV/AIDS with utmost care, love and support. It's phenomenal to witness that people who come on their deathbeds walk away with the disease with courage and strength.

Bel-Air Sanatorium & Hospital, Indian Red Cross Society at Panchgani is also running an Ayurvedic Center and a Nursing College.

Names have been changed to protect the person's identity.

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