Fortifying kids to battle AIDS
A group of Brown juniors has formally incorporated their effort to increase the success of anti-retroviral drug therapy for HIV-positive children in Mumbai.
An economics and biology undergraduate is making an international impact in the field of HIV treatment. Gaurie Tilak ’11 is starting a pilot program to provide a nutritional supplement to children in Mumbai who are HIV-positive. The added nutrition will increase the chances that antiretroviral therapy will be successful. “There was all this potential to do more for their health by filling in the nonmedical gaps,” Tilak explains.
During spring break, Tilak, of Denville, N.J., traveled to her family’s ancestral home in India to launch the nonprofit AIDS Relief International (ARI), which she founded with other Brown juniors interested in AIDS relief. She spoke at the launch of ARI on March 31 in Mumbai at Sion Hospital, which operates the region’s pediatric anti-retroviral therapy center. There, Tilak has forged relationships with physicians and nutrition experts who are advising her on logistical issues in the treatment of children.
“We’re working with two nutritionists to develop the supplement,” which consists of finely ground soybeans and other Indian staples to provide protein and micronutrients. The extra nutrition is needed to counter severe weight loss caused by the disease and sometimes by the drugs themselves, Tilak says.
While nutrition is crucial to the effectiveness of the therapy, that issue is not as prominent as therapy in the global HIV/AIDS discussion, says Cara Smith ’11, a founding member of the group and a human biology major from the Philadelphia area. Smith had committed herself to AIDS relief since high school, when she led a human rights group in raising $14,000 for an orphanage for HIV-positive children in Durban, South Africa.
Tilak approached her undergraduate friends last year when she noticed they all had interests in treating and preventing HIV. The nonprofit organization, incorporated this year, has raised enough money from U.S. donors to pay for a year’s worth of supplement – $2,000 including preparation and transport – for a pilot group of 50 children receiving HIV therapy. “It is an incredible opportunity to create a more sustainable effort in the fight against the HIV/AIDS epidemic,” Smith says.
Donations continue to come in. The group hopes to raise $10,000, according to Lauren Krumeich ’11, a pre-med student from Westchester County in New York. “We are seeking all the support we can get,” Smith adds. “There have been many individual supporters, but we are looking for more sustainable foundation support.”
The pediatric HIV center where AIDS Relief International plans to launch the pilot project is located at a hospital officially named Lokmanya Tilak Municipal General Hospital. It is named after Tilak’s famous freedom-fighter ancestor who is remembered in India for his rallying-cry: “[Self-rule] is my birthright, and I shall have it.”
Tilak’s March 31 visit to the hospital with Vice President for International Affairs Matthew Gutmann generated considerable coverage in the Indian media.