Pratima, who is in her 30s, has been battling family rejection on a daily basis since she tested positive in 1997 and lost her husband to Aids. Putting the challenges behind her, she has continued to work as a lab technician at a clinic in Malad which helps HIV positive people.
In the past decade, several organisations working in the field of HIV intervention have employed HIV-positive people as counsellors, researchers and technicians. “When women learn about their HIV status, they go into a state of shock. I put them at ease saying if I can go on they too will. It is like any other chronic disease like diabetes,” said Pratima. “I need to ensure a future for my son. I wish there was legal support for HIV-affected people to protect their property and savings.”
Activists, who are open about their status and interact with different groups of people, help in changing the stereotype and wiping off stigma — one of the most difficult challenges for patients.
B Sekar, who was among the first gay men in the country to go public with their HIV positive status in 1994, runs an organisation SWAM (Social Welfare Association for Men) in Chennai. “I fought the stigma and persisted with my work,” said Sekar. “Now everyone, including the police, respect me. We managed to control the incidence among the high-risk groups.”
Shabana Patel, who tested positive for HIV in 1998, is now a city coordinator for the Network of People Living with HIV/AIDS. Patel said her positive status helps in ‘peer counseling’. “It is the most effective way to convince people,” she said.