By Shilz

HIV is a debilitating and deadly disease of the human immune system, and is one of the world’s most serious health problems. The World Health Organization estimates that about 20 million people have died from AIDS since the infection was first described in 1981. Our India is one of the largest and most populated countries in the world, with more than one billion inhabitants. Of this number, it’s estimated that around 2.5 million Indians are currently living with HIV, and this is all due to lack of awareness and poor counseling.

The prevalence of HIV/AIDS is “high” in Maharashtra, of which Mumbai is capital, according to the country’s National Aids Control Organization. In some researches it has been found that that the risk of committing suicide is higher in people who have HIV.

In a bizarre incident, a couple infected with deadly HIVDefine virus killed their three children and then committed suicide. The Bombay, India-based couple took this extreme step after discovering that their six-year-old daughter had contracted the virus that causes AIDS. The bodies of Babu Ishwar Thevar, 39, his wife, Amothi, 33, two sons Venkatesh, 10, and Mani, 8, and daughter, Mahalaxmi, 6, were found in their home on August 5, 2008. The couple was living with the human immunodeficiency virus (HIVdefine) for two years and had been depressed by news that their daughter also had the HIV virus.

The police think that the parents allegedly fed sweets laced with poison to their two boys, and as the daughter survived eating the poisoned sweets, the parents then smothered her with a pillow before committing suicide. The couple had hanged themselves from the ceiling by a nylon rope.

Social stigma and discrimination against HIV-positive people are widespread in our country. People living with HIV fear to loose their status in the society, hence keep their disease a secret. In India, the HIV-infected people have faced violent attacks; been rejected by families as well as by spouses and communities. They also have been refused medical treatment, and even, in some reported cases, denied the last rites after they die. Such harsh reactions to HIV and AIDS make it difficult to educate people about how they can avoid infection.

It is really foolish that even most of the educated people decline to shake hand with HIV infected persons. People do not have proper knowledge about the modes of transmission of HIV.

Revathi, South Indian actress and film director, struggled a lot to convince so called super-hit hero’s in the Bollywood to play the character of a person with AIDS in her movie “Phir Milenge”. Salman Khan was the only one to accept the role when Revathi first came up with the idea. She herself admits it was difficult to find an actor for Salman’s role, with several turning it down, mostly because of the social stigma attached to the disease. The movie educates without being preachy, something it may have been in the danger of. It tends to drag in the first half but touches your heartstrings later. However, such movies are rarely received by people. All they want – item numbers, romance, comedy, fights, thrills bla bla bla…!!!

Knowledge about the illness is often confused — even among India’s professional medical community — but it is widely connected with sexual activity, which is a taboo topic in what remains a deeply conservative country. Past series of shocking “skull and crossbones” government adverts served to nurture fear without educating the public — particularly in rural areas where literacy levels are still low. Children’s organizations are known to have refused to take in orphans whose parents died of AIDS. Even in cities, counselling services are rare, leaving those who suffer from guilt and depression chronically undersupported.

Anasuya, a widow in her twenties, told a research team from the charity: “In villages people do not distinguish between HIV and AIDS, the last stage. They treat us as worse than Untouchables.”

Meghna Girish, the co-ordinator of a program for people living with HIV/AIDS in India run by the charity ActionAid, said: “Even after an AIDS patient’s death, people are often scared to touch the body, making last rites a problem.”

In one incident in June two doctors were suspended from a hospital in the northern city of Meerut after a man claimed that he was forced to perform the delivery of his son when medical staff refused to touch his wife upon learning that she was HIV-positive. The man alleged that he had carried out the procedure himself — even cutting and tying the umbilical cord — as doctors issued instructions from a distance.

Even the relatively rich suffer the effects of medical ignorance, according to a recent study conducted by the World Health Organization (WHO). It said that nearly 10,000 of the estimated 40,000 HIV-infected people being treated by private doctors in India were prescribed “irrational drug combinations”. Faulty regimens were making patients resistant to first-line antiretroviral drugs faster than usual, the study said.

The WHO also found that Indian drug companies are delivering powerful drugs directly to the homes of HIV patients — cutting out medical professionals — to overcome patients’ fears of discrimination.

The Government this week made a gesture towards integrating HIV/Aids sufferers by promising to issue them with cards that make bearers eligible for a national scheme designed to provide a minimum amount of employment to India’s poorest people.

In addition, about 100,000 people with HIV who are receiving antiretroviral therapy at 174 government centers across the country were promised to be treated as living below the poverty line, a status that qualifies them for food handouts.

Why is this stigma attached with AIDS, is it not possible to root out this stigma from our country?

References:, BBC News, & The MedGuru