The life of a social worker in the early years of the AIDS epidemic


Ashok Rau, a co-founder and executive trustee of the Freedom Foundation, a care and support center for HIV positive people, today plays a national role in India’s fight against AIDS. He was nominated by the President of India as a member of the Technical Resource Group on Legal and Ethical Issues of HIV/AIDS and he is a member of the National AIDS committee.

This recognition, however, came after a decade of police harassment and mistrust by neighbors.

Established in 1992, the Foundation was started to provide a treatment program for alcoholics and drug-addicts, but it did not take long to notice a link between addiction and AIDS. In 1995, the Freedom Foundation opened a separate center for HIV positive people—one of the first of its kind in the country.

Ashok Rau recalling his life as a social worker caring for HIV positive people at a time when few acknowledged their existence.
Ashok Rau

Finding a landlord willing to rent space to accommodate a growing number of patients was a struggle in itself–the only property the Freedom Foundation managed to rent was an abandoned chicken shed outside Bangalore. Rau and co-founder Karl Sequiera, spent months washing away the stench of chicken droppings and working as masons to build livable quarters.

The reality of the epidemic drew patients from all over India, but few doctors and social workers were willing to work at the center out of fear. Rau and Sequiera took on the work themselves, cooking and caring for patients and living among them.

As time passes, it is important to acknowledge the struggles of those involved in the early years of the battle against AIDS in India—much like the National Institutes of Health now honors the work of western researchers by gathering oral histories in which they recollect their roles in discovering the cause of the illness.

Lives in Focus here presents an audio podcast of Rau recalling his life as a social worker caring for HIV positive people at a time when few acknowledged their existence.

[audio:http://livesinfocus.tv/audio/aids/rau_early_years.mp3]

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