"I Wondered Why An American Came So Far To Die, Years Later I Understood"

What will you choose between a life with regular pay cheques, fixed work schedule, with time for family and loved ones; versus a life where society looks down upon you but you save hundreds of people from a painful life? Dr Glory Alexander had thought she will work in the social sector after she retires from her hospital duties but fate had something else in store for her and so many people who needed hope and support in life.

Dr Glory is one of the very few people in country who began working on HIV/ AIDS in late 1990s when the disease was shrouded with stigma, social alienation and unending misinformation. In an exclusive interaction with KenFolios, she shares about her life, work and impact caused by her organization .

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A rosy childhood

Born in Bangalore, Dr Glory was raised in a loving family where she was the youngest among four siblings. Her mother was a homemaker and father was an air force officer. This meant a lot of travelling around, jumping from one school to another, and growing up with a competitive attitude.

Excited with Glory's consistent good grades in school, her parents encouraged their daughter to consider becoming a doctor, an option that seemed equally appealing to her. "I was adamant to join only AFMC, Pune but my parents knocked sense into me and asked to apply at other places, too. After a rigorous interview session that lasted three days, I joined Christian Medical College and Hospital, Vellore," she says.

f3wut4pu678jtsbitwwwlxvzbryxfbbz.pngExclusive photo: A photo from 1977 when Dr Glory (first from right) along with other medical practitioners went to help flood victims in Ongole in Andhra Pradesh.

A death that stirred a storm

In 1987, she joined Bangalore Baptist Hospital as a consultant in medicine. Life was far away from being unpredictable, or so it seemed to her that time until she was nursing a severely ill patient. This was an American battling respiratory failure in India, away from his near and dear ones.

Dr Glory recalls, "His tongue and his nails had turned blue and he was breaking down. That time I could not figure out what the problem was. When I was about to leave, he asked me, “Doctor, could it be AIDS?” I did not know what to say. In 1987, AIDS was not even in the medical syllabus. I went to the library and read about the illness in The Oxford Textbook of Medicine. And it all fell into place."

It was a time when there were no testing options available for AIDS in Bangalore so his samples were sent to Vellore. By the time tests came and it was known that the person did have AIDS, he was already dead and buried. This incident left a deep impact on Dr Glory and stayed with her in one corner. She says, she wondered why would a person choose to come so far to die.

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"I didn't know what my future would look like but I knew that this incident had affected me."

Eleven years later

Dr Glory along with her husband went to work in Oman for three years. "Since the Baptist Hospital could not offer us attractive compensation, we thought of working abroad for a couple of years and then come back to rejoin the hospital in Bangalore," she says.

By the time they were back, in 1994, AIDS had come out of dark alleys and was staring the nation right in the face. The international communities whispered their fears of India becoming the next Africa and will lose one whole generation to the disease."I was appalled at the stigma around AIDS and it was even present among medical community at that time."

Emitting ray of hope

Once Dr Glory was invited to speak to 250 students about HIV/ AIDS. It was an interesting talk and every student listened to her with rapt attention but when she asked if anyone had a question, she was met with silence that reeked of shame. She then asked that students can write their questions on a piece of paper. The result, 31 questions reached her. Next time she was invited to address 900 medical students and the same thing happened.

Nobody wanted to talk about this hushed disease making it clear for Dr Glory that she had to reroute her career. In 1998, she quit the Baptist hospital to set up Asha Foundation, a place that is now one-stop solution for HIV/ AIDS patients. Right from a phone helpline to providing assistance in finding job, they do it all.

y3vxkgrpsm9acmvmcjhzqvfqefvebiz9.pngDr Glory was honored with Dr BC Roy National Award under the category of ‘Outstanding services in the field of Socio-Medical Relief’ from then President Pranab Mukherjee at a function held at Rashtrapati Bhavan on on the occasion of Doctors’ Day.

Asha stands for action, service and hope for AIDS. It is a charitable and voluntary Trust helping HIV/AIDS infected people, their families and society. The range of services include advocacy, capacity building, research, preventive services, awareness, treatment, care, support and rehabilitation of HIV-infected and affected persons with a special focus on women and children.

It is nothing short of a victory for our country that HIV/ AIDS, once a life threatening disease, has now reduced to a chronic disorder. And a portion of this achievement rightly bear thanks to Dr Glory Alexander. Share this story and leave your comments below.

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