Thursday, December 3, 2009

“The stigma must go away. Interview by kripa Family Member on WORLDS AIDS DAY 2009

“The stigma must go away…”
says an HIV-positive person on World AIDS Day

As told to Elton Pinto
Posted On Monday, November 30, 2009
It was back in the year 1995. I was high on brown sugar. My family had thrown me out years ago because of my addiction. I had my close group of ‘friends’ who shared drugs and needles. Most days were spent in drugged stupors and highs. That’s when news of this new disease started appearing all over the place. HIV and AIDS were the words, and the awareness programmes claimed that it could be spread through shared or contaminated needles. It was with this thought that I went to get myself tested.
The result of the test said I tested positive for HIV. The doctor proceeded to explain things, but in my head, I refused to accept it. “The test was wrong,” I told myself, so I left, tore up the reported and pushed the results of the test to the back on my mind.
Kripa Foundation
In 1997, I decide to clean up my act and visited Kripa Foundation for drug abuse rehabilitation. They required a blood test. I remembered the old test and spoke to the doctor. Two years later, the test turned out the same. I was HIV-positive.
After I saw that this test too said that I had an incurable disease, my only thoughts were to get back to drugs and spend the rest of my numbered days on a drugged high and then, even if I died on the drugs, it would be no problem at all. The people at Kripa thought differently.
The doctor took me to Fr Joe Pereira, Founder and Managing Trustee of Kripa Foundation, and explained my case to him. Fr Pereira then counselled me, on why I should keep living. He asked me if I really wanted to spend the rest of my days as a drug addict and die a drug induced death or… would I like to live a better life. After a two and a half hour long counselling session, I chose to live.
Getting back on the road to life
The first step of my rehabilitation involved me getting over my drug addiction and the people at Kripa got to it right away. The next step involved yoga and meditation. There was a two-fold benefit of yoga, firstly it helped physically to get my immunity up and secondly, it helped me mentally become stronger. I began practising yoga in the morning and evening for around half an hour.
In the year 2002, Kripa began a HIV centre at Vasai. Fr Pereira asked me to start living and working there. There began the awareness drives. We would walk down roads and I would use a megaphone to speak to people. Our efforts paid off and today, the centre has around 3000 patients.
I would counsel people who came to the centre. I would begin by telling them my story and that made them open up to me. They felt that if I could change so much for the better even though I was HIV-positive, they did not have to give up hope yet. Thus began the support group, which helped many people maintain a positive attitude towards life.
But I didn’t stop here. I visited the Ramamani Iyengar Memorial Yoga Institute (RIMYI) where Guruji BKS Iyengar taught a variety of yoga asanas to boost immunity and to treat other HIV-related complications, which I have shared with a lot of people from the centre to improve their lives. Till date, I practise yoga everyday.
Medications are life-long
About 3 years ago, I fell ill and I had a tough time recovering. My doctor then advised me to begin ART (Anti Retroviral Therapy) and I have been on that medication ever since. This involves taking a pill, which has 3 medications in it everyday, twice a day (morning and night). This medication does not destroy HIV, but prevents the multiplication of the virus. That’s why you cannot afford to miss a single pill, and once you have begun, it is a life-long medication.
Reconciling with family
12 years after I had left my family, I got back in touch with my older brother. After some persuasion, I convinced him to meet me. There, I told him about being HIV-positive and that I wanted to meet my family one last time to ask for their forgiveness. He told me he would call me back within three days.
Three days later, he called me and told me that I could come and meet mother. He hadn’t told anyone else in the family and wanted me to speak to them in person. So I went over and met them. I thought it would be for the last time, but fortunately it wasn’t. I now visit my family during the festivals.
Discrimination is the biggest hurdle
A few years ago, I went to the dentist to get a tooth extracted. I informed the dentist there that I was HIV positive. She asked me to wait and went to speak to the person-in-charge. They both then asked me to leave. When I asked them why I was being refused treatment, they proceeded to announce my ‘condition’ to all present there.
Discrimination is real. Young doctors in government hospitals refuse to even examine a HIV-positive person, whereas private hospitals refuse to admit an HIV-positive patient. People are still fearful of the disease and hence fear the people who test HIV-positive. Even when they come for counselling, they are afraid to open up and talk. It is only when I share my story with them that they feel comfortable and talk about themselves.
Most people think that those who are HIV-positive have done something bad in their lives and hence they have got this disease, but that is not always the case. Many people have contracted this disease for no fault of theirs. As awareness increases, people learn how to avoid infection, but until the day comes that people accept HIV-positive people without prejudice, all the awareness in the world will not help those afflicted with this disease. Awareness that people with HIV need love too; that they are not untouchables, needs to reach every person in society.