Tuesday, 1 December 2009

A Place To Call Home For HIV Patients

This is an excerpt from one of our local dailies, The Malay Mail dated 20th July, 2009.

I first came across this news from Ustaz Amin's Blog sometime back and has a strong desire to blog about this stunning news. And today, I would like to commemorate The World Aids Day (1st December 2009) by placing the excerpt for readers who might have missed the story.


The Malay Mail
Monday, July 20th, 2009


The Welcome Community in Batu Arang -

an after-care home for HIV patients run

by a Catholic group in Batu Arang

RAZAK stands quietly by the window and looks out, his gaze searching a distant past that nobody else can see.

He thinks about a time when he had a family and people he could always return to. But for a long time now, these things have been non-existent due to the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV).

Razak, 47, from Taiping, Perak, was diagnosed with HIV in 1991. He admitted to being a drug abuser in his younger days.

"I had a friend who was diagnosed with HIV but despite that, I still shared a needle with him. I know I was reckless but I was young then and didn't think much about the risks," he said.

A few months later, Razak was sent to Pudu jail for stealing from a supermarket. He discovered he had HIV after a health screening at the jail. In the following years, he was in and out of jail seven times, mostly for committing petty theft.

The "death" sentence, however, failed to deter him from continuing to use drugs. Meanwhile, he supplemented his drug habit with various jobs, waitering at hotels and even working as a security guard until he was fired
when his employers found out about his illness.

By 1998, his health had worsened and he was constantly in and out of hospital. When not hospitalised,
Razak spent his days seeking refuge under bridges in the city and going back to his drug habit to forget his

"There were days when I felt that I really wanted to die. There were days when I desperately wanted to live. I was in a never ending battle against my cravings for drugs every time I was out of hospital," said Razak.

Finally, deciding that he needed a long-term solution to be "clean" for good, he took up the hospital's recommendation to stay at the Welcome Community Home in Batu Arang, Selangor, where he is today.

The after-care home for those diagnosed with HIV is run by Catholic Welfare Services. Its 37 inmates, aged between 20 and 60, have no place to return to and no one to care for them.

"I've not seen my family since finding out that I had HIV. My wife refuses to answer my phone calls. It's the same with my two grown sons. But why should I be surprised? I left them when they were very young. I did nothing for them. No wonder they have no love for me," said an inmate called Yahya.

"I also can't hope to ask much of them when I had caused them so much difficulty in the past."

It is the same with Razak, whose mother and younger sister live in Rawang.

"My mother has accepted my illness but not my sister. She will not speak to me or see me. Mother comes to see me twice a year but it's difficult for her. She's so old and she still needs to earn a living," said Razak.

Razak and Yahya are with 35 other inmates of various races at the welfare home.

Most got HIV through sharing needles and some through sexual intercourse. Many have criminal records.
However, at the home, the men are united and comforted by the only people in the world who can understand their pain and suffering.

And with the uncertainty of when they will finally succumb to the illness, many turn to their faith to find peace within themselves.

While they are happy with the treatment and care given to them at the home, nevertheless a few of those of the Islamic faith have professed some discomfort in performing their religious duties as the home has pictures of Jesus and Mary and symbols of the Cross.

Muhamad Abdullah, or Ustaz Amin as he is usually known, discovered the Muslim inmates' predicament
when he was called to give a talk at the home a month ago.

"The home's administrators have done a commendable job, providing for the religious needs of the Muslim inmates by providing a room converted into a surau and also driving them by van to the mosque for Friday prayers.

"However, some of the inmates have informed me of their concerns pertaining to performing their religious
duties and so, I had an idea to set up a home for HIV patients who are Muslim," said Ustaz Amin, who is also a trustee for the NGO Yayasan Al-Ijabah.

The foundation, originally set up for orphans, has recently acquired a rented house in Subang Jaya to accomodate six HIV positive persons.

A few are from the Welcome Community Home. The men, who are at the home called "Darul Uquwah", are in
better health and can move about independently.

The operation of the centre is assisted by Haliza Abdul Halim, 48, who also runs a shelter home for women with social troubles in Subang Jaya. Part of the initiative to set up the home, said Ustaz Amin, was also because there is no other HIV patient home dedicated to Muslims.

What is HIV?

HIV or the human immunodeficiency virus can lead to acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS), a condition in humans in which the immune system begins to fail, causing life-threatening opportunistic infections.

The four major routes of transmission are unprotected sexual intercourse, contaminated needles,
breast milk and transmission from an infected mother to her baby at birth. Screening of blood products for HIV has largely eliminated transmission through blood transfusions or infected blood products in the developed world.

There is currently no vaccine or cure for HIV or AIDS. The only known method of prevention is avoiding exposure to the virus. However, a course of antiretroviral treatment administered immediately after exposure, referred to as post-exposure prophylaxis, is believed to reduce the risk of infection.

They now have somewhere to go

A CATHOLIC Welfare Services project, the Welcome Community Home in Batu Arang, is an aftercare home for HIV patients who have nowhere else to go.

The home has operated since 1995 and moved to its current location in April last year from another location nearby.

Its administrator, Anthony Gomez, said the home has a maximum occupancy of 43 persons and currently houses 37 men of various races and religions who were referred to the home from Sungai Buloh Hospital or the local prisons.

SUPPORT: The Muslim HIV patients at Welcome Community Home in Batu Arang

The home is run by two administrators, including Gomez, and 17 employees, including six assistant caregivers. It currently employs a full-time nurse and will have two more soon.

The inmates are treated well and without prejudice. Inmates are free to practise their own religion and on days when they are required to attend to prayers at their respective places of worship, they are chauffered to those places.

Food is also well taken care of. A Muslim assistant caregiver is tasked with the grocery shopping and to cater for the Muslims and the Buddhists. No beef or pork is served at mealtimes.

The running cost of the centre is RM438,000 annually out of which, a funding of RM226,000 comes from the Women, Family and Community Development Ministry via the Malaysian AIDS Council. Gomez described the inmates as being “close-knit” and having “the best peer support”.

“Despite the differences in their background, they have each other to rely on and that helps them to overcome their hurdles in battling HIV. We have three inmates who, when they came here for the first time, were wheelchair-bound but with the care that they received and the support of their peers, are able to walk again,” said Gomez.

There are depressing days for the inmates as well, especially when a fellow inmate passes away.

“Last year we lost seven inmates who were already in the terminal stage of the disease. Everyone was very down for many days.”



Anonymous said...

Hi, I'm miss Tai from Cyberjaya Medical University College of Medical Sciences, 3rd year pharmacy student. I'm currently doing a research on HIV for my final year thesis. So, I would like to ask permission to visit to your place, and it's my pleasure to meet those HIV patients, hoping to share their knowledge and advices. Finally, wish to hear from you soon.

Trina Tai

Swiss Palma said...

Hi Ms Tai,

Pls contact : Welcome Community Home, call 03-60351463, fax 03-60351009, or e-mail welcomehospice@gmail.com for detail of visit.

Thank you.