Stigmatisation and exclusion of HIV/AIDS patients from the community are key factors that prevent them from seeking testing, counseling and treatment at different parts of the country, said development activists and sufferers.
‘There are a good number of HIV-infected people who do not want to be even tested for fear of social isolation,’ said Azgar Hossain (not his real name) while talking to a group of reporters recently at his village home under Ukhia upazila in Cox’s Bazar.
Many of the sufferers say disclosure of their status have rendered them isolated in their families and some of the patients even criticised the role of ‘irresponsible’ local media that disclosed their names.
Development activists working with HIV prevention and treatment told this correspondent that there had been plenty of money for campaign and rehabilitation for the HIV-positive but the response for testing was still very poor.
They cited social stigma and economic constraints as major barriers to treatment of AIDS patients. Everyone whose names were on the government list had complained about negligence, 30-year-old Azhar said, referring to a meeting of more than 30 HIV/AIDS patients organised by NGOs, including Confidential Approach of AIDS Prevention, Mukta Akash and Ashar Alo, in Dhaka early December.
According to official figures, there are 1,207 HIV/AIDS patients in the country. Though a survey, conducted by UNAIDS in 2004, found a conservative figure of about 2,500, it might reach up to 7,500, sources working at field level said.
There were more than a dozen of HIV-positive patients in Azgar’s village and all of them had worked outside the country at one time. ‘A number of people returned home with the virus but feel ashamed to be tested for fear of being isolated,’ said Azgar who now faces criminal charges filed by his deserted wife after his status was known.
Azgar worked in the Middle East for about five years and returned home two years ago after being tested positive. His two-year-old marriage broke and he had been isolated in a small room at the corner of his ancestral home.
Volunteers of a local club, Kendriya Famous Sangsad, with assistance from department of youth development and UNFPA, had been carrying out ‘silent’ campaign for the rehabilitation of HIV-positives.
‘Media reports often enhance social problem for these people,’ said Joshan, a leader of the volunteers. Azhar referring to the meeting of AIDS patients lamented that they were void of any support other than medicines to cope with such situation.
‘We might be unable to do labouring or long tiring jobs, but we can easily do desk job.’
The young AIDS patient said the advertisement in Bangladesh’s media was not clear enough for labourers and workers going abroad.
The campaign should be intensified, Azhar said, suggesting counseling of youths and showing in-flight documentaries on ‘DOs’ and ‘DON’Ts’ on prevention measures against the deadly disease.
Source: The Commercial Times