Education to ensure stigma attached to Aids is removed

Education to ensure stigma attached to Aids is removed

None of us who live in very secure families and societies can imagine the pain and anguish of millions of people, especially innocent children, who are forced to live through the stigma of the dreaded disease of HIV+, either personally or in their families.

It has been almost a decade and a half since we started hearing about HIV and Aids.  Since then, there has been so much of advancement in the treatment of this disorder.  A lot of research has gone through and continues till date to fight it. 

When HIV first entered our society, it came with a stigma, just because this virus is sexually transmitted.  Eventually, people started getting aware that the virus could be transmitted by transfusion of infected blood or using infected needles too.  However, the shock that the first information gave has not really gone out of people’s minds till date.

By the time the medical fraternity, government authorities, NGOs and the general public could gear up to fight this virus, millions of people had been infected due to ignorance or misinformation.  Thus thousands of children were born HIV+ for no fault of theirs.  As per the NACO, there are 2.39 million people living with HIV (PLHIV). Of these, women constitute 39 per cent and children 4.4 per cent.

How would innocent children feel when they are suddenly bereft of the shelter and warmth of a family and are shunned by most in society, including their own schools? Though the government and NGOs have been running hundreds of awareness camps, counselling families and the general public about HIV and Aids and reassuring time and again that the virus can spread only through sexual transmission or  transfusion of infected blood or infected needles and not by simple contact or social mingling, the stigma has not gone. 

Not so life-threatening

HIV is no more an emergent life-threatening condition.  Thanks to the ART therapy, HIV+ people have been living normal lives for more than 20 years now.  HIV+ parents or mothers have been delivering normal children thanks to the medical assistance given to pregnant HIV+ mothers and the new born children. This is just another disorder like diabetes, which of course requires continuous monitoring, medication and lifestyle changes but definitely not an alarming disease that the society should shun HIV+ people or children.  Despite all this, children have been at the receiving end. The challenges faced by children, their care-givers and the institutions working for them due to the stigma are:

* The HIV+ mother or parents definitely try to hide the fact from their family members fearing the repercussions.  Thus, it is very difficult for them to go for regular check-ups, collect ART medicines and take them regularly without the knowledge of other family members.  The ART medicines have to be strictly taken on time, without break. Otherwise, the treatment gets affected.      

* When HIV+ mothers do not want to breastfeed their newborns out of fear of infecting them (though as per the latest developments in the field of treating HIV/Aids, they are advised to breastfeed their children), they have to do so very discreetly, as the family members will have hundreds of nosy questions.

* When HIV+ children are sent to normal schools, it becomes difficult for the parents/guardians to give them their regular medicines without the knowledge of the school authorities, because once the school authorities come to know that they are HIV+, hundreds of other problems crop up.  The parents of other children literally force the authorities to remove the HIV+ children from the school and the issue gets publicized.  There are many cases where the children have gone to the legal authorities for help.

* It is not just sufficient that the HIV+ children or for that matter anybody are just given regular medicines.  The medicines are really beneficial only if they are fed nutritious food regularly.  Since in many cases, the families lose all their resources or even jobs, once one of the members is diagnosed with HIV, getting ordinary meals thrice a day becomes a very big challenge, let alone ensuring the nutrition quality of the food!

* Finally, when one or both parents die of Aids, the children (who may or may not be HIV+) are orphaned and their very survival becomes a challenge. Even children bereaved with a good amount of money and property become helpless, as they have no legal status to claim or use any of it and they become vulnerable to being cheated by their own family members. The extended family members are not ready to take care of the orphaned children even for a day, due to the stigma and fear.

The counsellors have a tough time answering all these questions patiently, without hurting the children or their parents and ensuring that these kids do not get into depression. One more critical issue that arises in families is when one child is HIV negative and the other is HIV positive.  Both children feel discriminated in different ways and the family harmony is affected.

As common people, our responsibility lies in educating ourselves and educating our children and our community of the various issues linked to HIV/Aids and ensure that the stigma attached to this issue is permanently removed.