World Aids Day: Free drugs fighting HIV, but stigma remains

  • Deekshita Baruah, Hindustan Times, New Delhi
  • Updated: Dec 01, 2014 17:38 IST

Rakesh and his wife Sania, both aged 30, were diagnosed with HIV in 2012. Life for the couple, who had two kids, changed the moment they received their test results.

"Even though I started losing weight drastically and had been ill for three months, it had never occurred to me that I may be HIV-positive. It is only now, after two years, that our lives are limping back to normalcy," said Rajesh, who added that he was at least happy that his wife has been able to keep the virus under control without medication.

"I am not on medication, but I'm careful about what I eat. I try and follow a healthy lifestyle in order to build my immunity," said Sania. "My husband, however, is not keeping as well as me. He keeps falling sick from time to time, even though he takes all his medicines".

The couple's five-year-old son Vishi is also HIV positive. Fearing stigma for themselves and their son, Rajesh and Sania have chosen not to tell their friends and families about their HIV-positive status. And they are not the only ones trying to keep their HIV positive status from the world.

HIV counselor Mona, 43, was diagnosed with the virus in 2007. Mona stated that though her life hasn't changed much in the last seven years and she was very happy with her job, she preferred to keep her HIV status a secret from the society.

"In my few years of working as a counsellor, I have seen individuals and their families break down. As a person living with HIV, I know it's not easy to get over the initial shock. But, it's imperative to stay strong. My aim is to sensitise people and help them in their psycho-social and emotional development," Mona said.

She added, "In over a month, we have around 10-12 new people who come to me after being diagnosed with HIV. Most of them are referred from the government's Antiretroviral Therapy (ART) Centres across Delhi. Although most people are newly-weds, we also have some children attending therapy sessions".

Antiretroviral medicines used to treat HIV, along with counselling and testing, are given free to adults and children under India's National AIDS Control Programme.

Shashi Bharti, care-coordinator at The Naz Foundation (India) Trust said that as easy as it looked, breaking the news about their HIV status to children was a difficult task.

"First, we gauge their mental state and only after we have established that they are ready do we break the news to them. This is followed by thorough monthly counselling. And if the child agrees to it, we try and reach out to the extended family to sensitise them too," Bharti said.

NAZ Foundation also runs a care home for children affected with HIV. "We opened the orphanage in 2001 after we found a child abandoned at our doorstep. Today, we have 33 children between the age groups of 7-17 years. All attend school, with yoga, art and computer classes being part of them attend school with yoga, art and computer classes being made a part of their regular activities."

*All names have been changed to protect the identities of people living with HIV

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