World AIDS Day: Of social stigma, ostracization, and apartheid

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Srinagar: It was 17 years ago when 48-year-old Hamza (name changed) was tested positive for HIV, but he still shudders with fear whenever he remembers the day.

He used to go outside the valley for work and somehow he contracted the infection. “I became very sick.  I came back to my hometown for the treatment”, said Hamza.

His worst fears came true when his own family abandoned him and told him to leave the house. “My own family told me to leave the home. I was used to living alone for a very long time and faced a lot of discrimination”, he said.

When he contracted the infection in 2003, people were reluctant to consult doctors fearing stigma. “It was in 2007 when the full-fledged treatment center was established by Jammu and Kashmir Aids Control Society (JKACS). Many patients registered for treatment. I too got registered and started treatment”, he said.

For five years, Hamza was responding well to treatment. His world came crashing down in 2012 when he started losing weight. “His weight began to reduce. He lost appetite. He got infections. Medicines were not working”, said his doctor.

Since  the medicines were scarce in Kashmir, he was referred to Chandigarh for second-line of treatment. “After a few months of treatment, I started to gain weight again. The infections in my body began to reduce, and I started to become normal again”, said Hamza.

 Seventeen years on, he is still taking the medicines. “I look normal. I go to work normally. , I have grown up children and my family has now accepted me,” he said.

Hamza is not an isolated case. HIV-positive patients have to wage a daily battle against social stigma, ostracization, and apartheid in the conservative Kashmir.

Figures released by Jammu and Kashmir AIDS Control Society (JKACS), reveal that 100604 people were tested in the union territory in 2020. Of which 214 samples came back HIV positive.

 Project Director of JKACS, Dr. Mushtaq Rather told The Kashmir Monitor that the major reasons for HIV transmission are the use of unhygienic syringes and unsterilized needles and unscreened blood transmission.

“Blood should be screened before the transmission. Same needles should not be used for multiple persons. Pregnant ladies should test for HIV for the safety of the child. At the time of delivery, the child is given the medicine which led the child to have zero chances of having AIDS,” he said.

Dr. Mushtaq said this year`s theme on World AIDS day is “Global Solidarity, Shared Responsibility”.

“We need to come together to eradicate AIDS. HIV AIDS is a preventive disease. It can be prevented by taking the precautions,” he said.

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