An IIT graduate in Madhya Pradesh immolated his wife and two daughters last year in March before killing himself, fearing that all four showed signs of HIV. However, his suicide attempts remained futile. He said that although he loved his family, the social stigma associated with HIV and the horror of ‘maybe’ being a host to the AIDS virus compelled him to attempt homicide. What is more pitiful, is that he showed negative after a series of tests.
The thought of restricting awareness about this rampant disease only to December 1 of each year seems absurd. Neither should we wait for a nationwide incident to shed light upon this grim matter.
It was the nerve of a district collector in Kerala that urged me to write about HIV and its still prevalent stereotypes. Mr. P Bala Kiran, District Collector of Kannur in Kerala, took it upon himself to educate the citizens in his district of this dreaded disease when everyone objected to a 20 year-old HIV positive girl staying in the same hostel as other ‘normal’ students. Reading this story, I recalled the words of the famous British-American actress Elizabeth Taylor– “It is bad enough that people are dying of AIDS, but no one should die of ignorance”.
Not everywhere can we find the likes of Mr. Kiran and expect a bold intervention for uplifting the HIV positive. Sometimes, the self-centred and ignorant attitude of the healthy can make the infected feel bitter instead of better. Therefore, an awareness drive needs to be initiated from the very primary levels. Instead of regarding sex education as a taboo, it is required that both parents and teachers unite in the effort to teach their young ones not just about sexually transmitted diseases, but also the social and moral support that people going through such tough times deserve.
Earlier, using the words ‘HIV’ or ‘AIDS’ in India was similar to saying ‘Voldemort’ in Hogwarts. When Anjali Gopalan, a pioneer in the field of HIV prevention and care established the first HIV clinic in India in 1994, things started looking up. Since then, a treatment has also developed post which a person can still live a productive life with HIV for many years.
Then why we, in 2016, still fret from shaking hands with an HIV positive patient? Why do we think that a miniscule act of hugging or kissing the infected will spread the infection? HIV can only be spread through an open wound and bodily fluids such as semen, breast milk, etc. While we are at it, as opposed to the common myths, HIV patients are not only homosexuals or drug users who have been ‘punished’ for their crimes. They are as human and innocent as you are.
What is more mind boggling is the fact that these myths are not just ubiquitous in backward areas, but also in metropolitans and amongst people who label themselves as rational and modern citizens. Last year in December, a Chennai resident was deported from Oman with a ‘contagious disease’ tag on her passport. She was also made to sit aloof in the aircraft while travelling back home. Such societal discriminations and preconceived notions have led to many sane minds losing their lives. It is imperative that we educate ourselves and help pluck the weeds of myths and humiliation from the roots. Even today, a lot of people are not aware about the free Anti-Retroviral Treatment (ART) provided by the government since 1st April 2004.
Because of the lack of education on AIDS, discrimination, fear, panic, and lies surrounded us. If we cannot lend an amicable approach to the needy, let’s not atleast become a hurdle in their recovery. If you know someone struggling to fight the virus, do communicate them the link given here. Help us bridge the gap between the patients and government treatment centres providing free care.