Priest Revives Former TB Clinic for AIDS Patients A Catholic priest and the Indian Red Cross have created what some say is a model for AIDS care in the developing world: a combination hospital and community center.
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Priest Revives Former TB Clinic for AIDS Patients

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Priest Revives Former TB Clinic for AIDS Patients

Priest Revives Former TB Clinic for AIDS Patients

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And now we travel 160 miles south of Mumbai, where a Catholic priest working alongside the Red Cross has created what some say is a model for AIDS care in the developing world - a hospital and community center that provides charity care without depending solely on charity itself.

NPR's Joe Neel visited Bel-Air Hospital.

JOE NEEL: Bel-Air is an old TB sanatorium that used to be famous for its advanced care. It started in 1912 in a thick forest on top of a mountain. When Father Tomy Karyilakulam, a Catholic priest, happened onto it about 15 years ago, Bel-Air's 50 or so buildings were crumbling - trees were growing through windows and rooftops.

Father TOMY KARYILAKULAM (Catholic Priest): As a human being, I just felt bad. I just said, how can one stand (unintelligible)...

NEEL: Father Tomy vowed to save Bel-Air. He persuaded the Indian Red Cross Society, which owns the hospital, to allow him and his mission to rebuild.

Father KARYILAKULAM: There is no other place where these people will get help from, and I think that is a situation which you cannot allow to happen. And for some who needs help, he needs help.

NEEL: At Bel-Air, Father Tomy has achieved what no other rural hospital in India has. He assembled the latest technology and the doctors needed to practice sophisticated Western-style medicine. And that meant he could get access to the government-controlled supply of drugs to treat HIV.

Father KARIYILAKULA: The way we look at patients and deal with it, with dignity, with love and with care; we do not have any discrimination against any positive person here.

NEEL: Even the poorest of the poor can qualify for free AIDS drugs. Those who can pay are charged modest fees. But by the time they get to Bel-Air, Father Tomy says, patients can be very sick. They've spent precious months getting care from underqualified doctors claming to be AIDS experts or outright quacks.

Father KARIYILAKULAM: So they all go on writing all of these wrong prescriptions.

NEEL: He says they give out vitamins or antibiotics that don't do anything against HIV or TB.

Father KARIYILAKULAM: They make a mess.

NEEL: Because, he says, the wrong drugs, the wrong dosages create drug resistance and relapses.

Father KARIYILAKULAM: They just make the life of people hell by (unintelligible) this is what is happening.

NEEL: He says there are counterfeit drugs that hurt patients.

Father KARIYILAKULAM: That there is no quality-control systems...

NEEL: To keep people from getting these bad medicines.

Father KARIYILAKULAM: Please come, please come.

NEEL: Bel-Air is so unusual that health experts from all over the world come to see what Father Tomy has been able to create here.

Father KARIYILAKULAM: We have all the facilities (unintelligible) absolutely modern. They give medicines seven days in all of them.

NEEL: Bel-Air now has 250 beds and four operating rooms. Its staff includes two-dozen doctors and 60 nurses. Father Tomy is a master at fundraising. But unlike most charities, he doesn't rely solely on grants or government aid. He's setting up several money-making enterprises.

(Soundbite of children playing)

Just down the road from Bel-Air is a brand new private boarding school run by his mission. Long, cool hallways, spacious classrooms, verandas, fans; the school attracts the wealthy from Mumbai and beyond. Its substantial profit goes to Bel-Air.

Father KARIYILAKULAM: That is 12 million rupees annual net in flow. Excellent.

NEEL: Or about $300,000 a year. And on the edge of nearby cliff...

Father KARIYILAKULAM: (Unintelligible)

NEEL: A four-year college of nursing is rising quickly out of the red dirt. It may also turn a profit. But more importantly, it will provide 80 nurses and students to staff the hospital, nurses that will be needed as the demand for AIDS treatment keeps going up.

Joe Neel, NPR News.

YDSTIE: Joe Neel is a Kaiser Family Foundation Media Fellow this year. You can learn more about Bel-Air's early days as a TB hospital and its rise from the ruins under the care of Father Tomy at

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