Even as new medicines to prolong the life of the HIV-infected hit the counters, people hesitate to undertake the HIV test due to the fear of the stigma associated with it.
But the project launched by CPK+ Council of People Living with HIV/ AIDS in Kerala, a non-profit making and community-based organisation to mitigate it is slowly scripting success.
The project aims to involve the patients in tackling the fear. HIV patients will be trained to offer counselling to fellow patients. Titled ‘Vihaan’, it covers the 14 districts and aims at identifying each and every HIV infected person in the district. It is is perhaps the first of its kind in the state.
Since its launch in June, ‘Vihaan’ has about 400 patients under its ambit in Ernakulam alone. “By appointing HIV patients as counsellors, we want to send out a positive signal that they have a life ahead and a prominent role to play in mainstream society,” said Joseph Mathew, president, CPK+.
At the counselling centres, female sex workers (FSW), transgenders (TG), hijras, MSM will receive information on care and support. They will have access to a range of health referrals, education and linkages to social welfare schemes and entitlements. The structure of the service centres is in accordance with the vision, mission and scope of National Aids Control Organisation NACP.
Joseph said that the revelation of one’s own identity was the major bottleneck that forced them to keep off the HIV test. Even if they undertake the test, they stop taking the medication midway for fear that their identity may be revealed. “Hence our aim is to counsel them to fight the stigma,” he said.
Though early diagnosis has helped reduce the number of children infected with HIV, a considerable number of children are still fighting it. “We disclose the fact that they are HIV infected when they are seven or eight years old. That lessens the quantum of shock. Sometimes, children ask us why they are taking medication. So it is better to reveal it to them at a young age,” he said.
The official said that it is tough to tackle the high risk groups like women, children transgenders and hijras who are addicted to drugs, especially injections.