For many of us, December 1 will be just like any other day. But millions of people living with HIV/AIDS around the world will be looking towards us to stand up beside them, call for action and help stop their sufferings. Each year on December 1 the world celebrates World AIDS Day.
Yet, thousands of people in the country infected with the virus face social discrimination and stigma from different fonts. According to Human Rights Watch, “People living with HIV/AIDS and those thought to be infected have been imprisoned, assaulted and even murdered.”
The stigma of AIDS has taken many lives before the disease itself killed them. But the reasons behind the suicides and extent of this have rarely come to our knowledge. Society’s limited understanding of this disease is causing innocent people to pay a terrible price.
Increasingly across the world, there are voices questioning in one angle. They question the narrow approach to a single disease, especially the huge financing for AIDS over all else in basic health care. Our approach to this disease needs to change for the sake of our people, our brothers and our sisters who are fighting against odds.
Social factors like discrimination, stigmatisation and rejection have pushed people living with HIV to become desperate and feel hopeless, to the extent of giving up their life. They face discrimination and lack of support not only from the society but also from his/her own family. “I have actually seen how lack of support and stigma really makes to lose hope. How can we live if nobody is willing to listen to our problems?” said one of the victims in a rehabilitation centre in the city.
They are also being confined from friends, scared for losing their jobs. This made them to live in phobia and their condition become worse as they need proper and adequate treatment that could provide them with better life.
Most of these people are not getting proper medical and nursing care as stigma is attached so strongly to this illness that even some well educated people refuse to serve them. Many are afraid of consulting the doctors as they did not wish other people to know about their predicament.
According to the experts, with the existing treatment, people with HIV can lead a normal life like the others particularly if they receive good support from their family members, especially their parents.
The situation is aggravated by the fact that major percentage of the HIV positive individuals are injectable drug users (IDUs), who are marginalised by society and criminalised by the law. HIV/AIDS has already been concentrated epidemic among the IDUs. They must be taken under rehabilitation to stop the spread of this threat.
Conditions of women living with HIV/AIDS are dismal. Women are blamed for carrying the infection, even though they may have got the virus from their partners (in most cases husbands). Instances have been reported, where husbands abandon their ailing wives and children to find another wife. Due to the fear of social and family desertion, women are hesitant to disclose their HIV/AIDS status. Also, disclosure may lead to loss of job and reputations. This fear and dithering will make women an easy target of violence and abuse.
Now is the high time for everybody to make a cumulative move and put in a fair share of effort in building effective policies and laws, in changing social attitude which enable the people living with HIV/AIDS to live and enjoy the rights as any other citizen of Bangladesh.
Dr Md Rajib Hossain
Source: The Daily Star, November 29, 2008