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Aided Ostracism: India's Bane.

India, Nov. 30 -- "HIV does not make people dangerous to know, so you can shake their hands and give them a hug: Heaven knows they need it", affirmed Princess Diana. In a rude rebuttal to these sane words recently a West Bengal school allegedly has hounded out a seven year old boy as his HIV positive status was revealed!

The news bit was greeted with anger and disgust from many a well-informed people across India. The act was atrocious to say the least. Falling close on the heels of the World Aids Day, annually celebrated on December 1, the incident compels us to take stock of things in our Aided World. For, as Elizabeth Taylor succinctly puts, "It is bad enough that people are dying of AIDS, but no one should die of ignorance."

We need to help unlearn the erroneous belief that HIV/AIDS can spread through a mere hand shake, hug, sneeze, touch or sharing food or clothes, toilet etc. of an HIV-affected person. AIDS or HIV infection can be transmitted from person to person through the mucous membrane, bodily fluid or blood.

HIV can spread through vaginal, anal or sexual intercourse, by sharing needles to inject intravenous (IV) drugs, from mother to child in the womb, during child birth or breast feeding and from any blood to blood contact with someone who is infected. HIV/AIDS-related stigma and discrimination exists worldwide albeit their manifestation varies from countries, communities, religious groups, work-places and educational and medical institutions. Stigma in general creates discrimination and restrictions in travelling, healthcare, educational, employment and matrimonial facilities.

HIV/AIDS blurs boundaries and no country on the globe is free from its fatal grip. The report by UNAIDS, the United Nations programme on HIV/AIDS, said that 19 million of the 35 million people living with the virus globally do not know their HIV positive status, and so ending the AIDS epidemic by 2030 will require smart scale-up to close the gap. Six countries - China, India, Indonesia, Myanmar, Thailand, and Vietnam - account for more than 90 percent of the people living with HIV in the region.

People with HIV are often ostracized and discriminated; excluded from the society they suffer from social ostracism. As stigmatized individuals they are clubbed with drug addicts, mental patients or people of different deformities who are pushed to the periphery. Despite many medical advances in the field of Antiretroviral therapy which enables HIV positive patients to live longer and healthier lives, deep-rooted misconceptions and untenable apprehensions about the disease prompt the people of their immediate society to ostracize them as outcasts.

Incidentally the inhuman act of throwing out the seven year old HIV+ from the West Bengal School testifies the ignorance and prejudice that still enslave a huge section of the parents-society in India. While the boy's mother herself being an HIV+ an NGO worker engaged in HIV-awareness had revealed her son's status with the best of intentions, the furore fiercely was raised by the parents of his schoolmates until the boy was ostracized. Worse still they forced the student's grandmother, a teacher, to go through an HIV test and prove her purity.

This tragic episode through the various characters that figure in it sends out ample message for the rest of us to ponder on: Every human child has a right to education. The boy's mother had the honesty and courage to reveal her son's status. She reportedly contracted the virus from her husband and passed on to their son. The grandmother-teacher patiently undergoes the test and proves her purity before the protesting public. And the inhumanity and ignorance of the ferocious mob that refuse to learn, hence perpetuate their fallacies. This is no isolated case. There have been cases in the past when children of HIV-status were refused admission in public schools across India.

The education sector has a central role in the multi-sectoral response to HIV/AIDS. Education is an effective "Social Vaccine" against HIV. The "Know AIDS - No AIDS" signs that dots India tells it all. Schools have a great role to play in changing the mind-set of the young students about people with HIV. Through Adolescence Education Programme and Sexuality Education classes they can clear lots of misconception about AIDS. "Will I get AIDS if I sit close to a friend who is HIV+?" "Will I get it if I share sweets with her, wear her clothes, play with her or hug her?" "Can AIDS be passed if I drink water from the same glass she uses?" etc., are some of the anxious queries that come up in such classes.

By conducting orientation programmes for parents, the school management can throw light on the reality of HIV/AIDS and help remove the dangerous myths about the disease. For, it's only by talking about HIV/AIDS the stigma will diminish. Alex Garner, HIV Activist wrote, "One of the best ways to fight stigma and empower HIV-positive people is by speaking out openly and honestly about who we are and what we experience."

Changing the stigma associated with HIV and AIDS is an uphill task. Much more than AIDS, it's the stigma that positive people young and old in India find hard to cope with. Stigma also leads to people avoid the test so that they can live without being ostracized. While discrimination, prejudice, negative attitudes and abuse directed at people living with HIV/AIDS persists today, there's very little knowledge about the disease per se and the routes of its spread. Thus the societal stigma thrives on people's fear of contagion.

So, what could be the way forward? As Kapil Kaul, country head at non-profit HelpAge India, wisely puts, "For discrimination to end, we have to create sympathy and understanding for high-risk groups and that is a huge campaign which must penetrate social norms... and the campaign to end stigma and discrimination must have a 5-10 year perspective with definite milestones."

Published by HT Syndication with permission from Indian Currents.

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Publication:Indian Currents
Geographic Code:9INDI
Date:Nov 30, 2015
Words:1007
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