It’s been thirty years since HIV/AIDS was first identified and discovered. And even after three decades, nothing much has changed. Majority of people were clueless about this disease then and they still are. The tremendous amount of stigma and shame which this disease has instigated in the minds of people and the fear it evokes, is an issue which our world has to deal with. Despite all efforts, AIDS continues to be a word that generates more anxiety than awareness. Stigma and discrimination against those suffering from the disease remains a harsh reality.
The prejudice, negative attitude, abuse and maltreatment aimed at people living with HIV and AIDS has degraded the mindset of our society for a long time. A lot has been meted out to improve the situation, but a lot still needs to be done. The consequences of stigma and discrimination are wide-ranging: being shunned by family, peers and the wider community, poor treatment in healthcare and education settings, an erosion of rights and most importantly psychological damage and loss of self respect. The fear of being shunned and ostracised by one’s fellow mates has affected the minds so much that people who are aware that they are HIV-positive, refuse to go to clinics to receive ARVs (antiretroviral therapy) for fear of being identified. Such people, then, descend into narrow alleys and dark corners and fall in a pit of depression and self loathing.
Education is meant to broaden our horizons and make us aware about our world. But, I have observed that even educated people shirk away from the sight of such people. The moment we find out that someone has this disease, our opinions dramatically change and negative judgement and inferences take over. The government has spent considerable amount of money in educating and informing the people of our country about the truth of this disease and have attempted to remove misconceptions. But the average person still fears touching or kissing someone with HIV, even though we have been taught for years that neither of these activities can infect someone else. HIV is infectious, not contagious.
The present situation is not completely grim. According to National AIDS Control Organisation’s latest figures, there has been 57 per cent reduction in new HIV infections in India during the last decade. Clearly, some scaled-up prevention strategies are yielding positive results. About 1.5 lakh lives have been saved due to the scale-up of free aniretroviral treatment since 2004. So, going by this pace, we can hope for a better tomorrow. But social stigma attached to HIV/AIDS poses a bigger threat and that has to be won. Education is the answer. But the most important thing we need to do right now is to modify our disposition and temperament, challenge our beliefs, take a stand, get rid of prejudices and accept those people with love, care and support .
So, on this World AIDS day, let’s all take a pledge to actualize more empathy within us and pray for an AIDS free world!
HIV does not make people dangerous to know, so you can shake their hands and give them a hug: Heaven knows they need it.- Princess Diana