Good gesture

Goa chief minister Manohar Parrikar made a good gesture by sharing food with a number of HIV positive children who were denied admission in a school in a village near Panaji.  Thirteen inmates of an orphanage were turned back from the school some days ago as parents of children who are already studying there thought the infected children would transmit the disease to others. The parents’ association forced the school management to cancel their admissions. The parents have also objected to the admission of 23 other children who are suspected of having HIV. Some parents have withdrawn their wards from the school. There have been other cases in other parts of the country also of HIV positive students being denied admission to schools. HIV positive adults also face such discrimination in social forums.

Parrikar’s act of eating shared food with the children should send out the message that HIV/AIDS is not passed on from infected people to others through food or other normal forms of social contact. There are many wrong notions and misconceptions about the disease and they have resulted in bias against and callous treatment of HIV positive people. Sexual contact, transfusion of infected blood and birth from an infected mother are the only ways of contracting the disease. There are also effective ways of preventing transmission. But misinformation and unfounded fears influence the conduct and attitude of people to HIV infected people. HIV positive people find it difficult to get jobs or houses on rent. Many are not welcome on social occasions. In fact, there have even been instances of some hospitals refusing to admit HIV positive persons for treatment on the ground that other patients and even the medical staff might oppose it.

Apart from the fact that such stigmatisation is denial of justice, it also weakens the fight against the disease. The fear of social exclusion dissuades many people from going in for tests for confirmation of infection or for treatment. This makes lateral treatment and recovery more difficult. There are also more chances of their infecting others. It is necessary to raise public awareness on the matter so that there are no misconceptions about it among the people. There has even been a proposal to legislate a law to prevent discrimination against HIV positive people and to protect their interests. But spreading correct information and sensitisation of people is more important, and actions like Parrikar’s will help in that.

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