It is not all that easy, because it is not straightforward. It is a problem that has several other problems entwined in it , in such intricacies that it is difficult to figure out which problem is at the grass root level, and which needs to be overcome first to solve the others. This is what I learnt about the situation of AIDS in India during the very short span of time that I spent working with an international NGO that deals with HIV positive Nepali migrants in Mumbai.
The very first hitch is prevention. The benefits of condom use, caution to be taken during blood donation, abstinence from sexual relations with multiple or unknown persons – all these steps are quite hard to drill into the minds of people. Look around you; the sheer number of organizations and awareness campaigns working towards prevention of AIDS is breathtaking. The repeated emphasis to use condoms by concerned ad campaigns made me sure that every almost Indian, no matter which remote village he or she may live, or from whatever effects of poverty or illiteracy he may suffer from, would diligently make use of condoms. Apparently, it is not so. The graveness of the situation and the necessity of these preventive methods have still not been able to hit the Indians. Where prevention is concerned, we still have a long way to go.
When prevention is not successful, cure is the next option. But wait. Everyone knows that once a person has the HIV virus in the body, nothing can be done to reverse the spread of the virus completely. However, it is also common knowledge now that medicinal treatments such as ART and HAART can prove to be quite effective to delay the onset of AIDS. I learnt that this fact means nothing to a person who is afflicted by HIV. To him, it is a lose-lose or a die–die situation. For a person who has contracted the virus, it is the end of the world, with no hope but only despair left to battle it out till the body gives in to the disease. I caught a glimpse of that despair when I assisted the workers of the NGO to a slum, where a 30-year-old woman, who has AIDS, lives in a room with her two children. Needless to say, her physical condition was pathetic, but not as much as her mental condition. She was not bothered about her treatment, or the regular intake of the prescribed dose. She was obsessed with a longing to go back to Nepal, her homeland, irrespective of the fact as to whether she would be able to obtain treatment there or not. She had already given up her treatment twice before, simply because she had no faith where her recovery was concerned. The workers had been working extremely hard to support her, and encourage family support. They gave her pep talks about a better life. She went through various counseling sessions wherein she was told about the importance of taking her medicines regularly. All of these seemed to have a temporary effect on her. Her condition deteriorates despite the earnest measures taken by NGO workers.
Completely paradoxical to this, was the situation of another 35-year-old woman I met, who had received the virus from her husband 15 years ago, but if anyone saw her, they would not believe it. She is one of those 1 in a 1000 people who has meticulously followed her treatment plan, is cautious about her diet and is leading an almost perfectly normal life , while heading an organization of 8000 HIV positive people that work towards this very cause. When I met her, she was glowing with earned success, and a lot of hope and confidence. What mysterious circumstances have led to her being so fit, contrary to another woman in the same situation is hard to answer. But I did gather that this woman too had obviously been through hard times, yet someone or something had stopped her from turning into a useless body and a hopeless spirit.
No doubt, our organizations are working extremely hard to uplift the conditions of these people. But another message that needs to be drilled into people is that obtaining the virus does not mean complete decadence of the body. It is more like an alarm to change one’s lifestyle completely to fight a problem and make oneself as productive as possible. Around 5 million people in India are HIV positive, but only a negligent few of those are employed, and even fewer want to do something significant before the end of their lives. Regardless of their capabilities and potential, they lie around without the realization that they are not useless, but are crucial instruments in promoting upliftment and changing the face of AIDS in India. The need of the hour, along with prevention, is to have organizations and citizens working towards the conversion of patients into potent individuals in order to facilitate maximum productivity from such persons towards the cause of AIDS.
Sharanya Misra Sharma
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