World AIDS Day 2021: PLHIV women fight stigma to access treatment in Manipur
Manipur is recorded as one of the states in the country with high number of PLHIV, having a percentage of 0.51 of total population which is above the national average of 0.24 per cent.
Updated on 4 Dec 2021, 10:30 am
(Representational Image: Pixabay)
For fear of stigma and discrimination, many women living with HIV/AIDS are reluctant to disclose their status. However, to initiate Anti-Retroviral Therapy (ART) treatment to those affected, they are told to disclose their status through NGOs. Many of them avoid visiting the ART centre. However, realising the importance of enhancing the quality and longevity of life through the treatment, some of them have begun to set aside all phobias and adhere to the therapy boldly and strictly.
It may be noted that with an objective to eliminate HIV/AIDS, which is one of the public health issue globally, December 1 is being observed as "World AIDS Day" under different theme. For this year too, it is being organised with the theme "End Inequalities, end AIDS, ends pandemic". On this day, Manipur also joined the world in creating awareness about HIV/AIDS.
Manipur is recorded as one of the states in the country with high number of PLHIV, having a percentage of 0.51 of total population which is above the national average of 0.24 per cent, according to the report of the Manipur State AIDS Control Society (MACS), detecting its infection for the first time in 1990s. Taking up various preventive measures like awareness, setting up of ART centres, OST centre and so on to control this health crisis, both by MSAC and various NGOs, Manipur slipped in the ranking of prevalence rate to third position, after Mizoram and Nagaland as per India HIV Estimation Report 2019. The state topped for quite a long time.
According to MACS, HIV transmission through unprotected sex has been increasing gradually than sharing of syringe. In 2011-12, 53 percent of HIV prevalence rate was spread through sex and 31 percent in sharing of syringe. But in 2020, the rate of sexual transmission rose to 64 percent and sharing of syringe declined to 25 percent.
Many innocent women had contracted HIV/AIDS from their spouse as a forever gift. Despite knowing their HIV status, they try to hide it with the fear of societal structure that hinder them to initiate free ART treatment service provided by NACO since 2017. Yet many women living with HIV/AIDS, with a desire to lead a healthy life in view of their children, they openly access ART treatment without any tension of who will say what, MACS said.
As per data received from MACS, number of PLHIV who had ever initiated ART is 21093 as on September 2021. Out of which 10,873 is adult male; 8716 is adult female; transgender is 129; children male is 598 and children female is 577.
PLHIV who are alive and on ART are 13,456 as on September 2021. Out of which, adult male is 6067; adult female is 6102; transgender is 94, male child is 427 and female child is 446.
Speaking to Imphal Free Press, a PLHIV widow from the heart of Imphal City, Thoi (name changed), shared that she learnt about her HIV status during anti-natal check up of her second baby which was in 2017. The result broke her down for some days but thinking of her kids, she began ART treatment immediately.
"My husband died because of AIDS during my second pregnancy period. I completely broke down with the result of my HIV test and death of my husband. But with the belief that I have to live for my children, I strictly followed precautionary measures to lead a healthy life. Through proper counselling and advises given by one of the NGOs about ART treatment stating that it helps to boost immunity and prevent morbidity, mortality and transmission, I opted this treatment in a very confidential manner not even informed to my family member", she narrated.
She further said that realising the vitality of ART to keep her healthy really motivated her to access ART service with no fear of stigma and discrimination. She first disclosed to her mother-in-law and then switched to get the ART treatment directly from government ART centre.
"Sometimes I do face very rude response from ART centre as if we are like untouchables. But instead of getting angry with their attitude, I do console myself and responded them in a polite manner. Nowadays, instead of hiding my status, I keep sharing about the advantages of strict adherence to ART", she added.
Another PLHIV, Seema (name changed) who is in her 20s from Imphal West and mother of one said that she happened to know her HIV infection two years back during anti natal care check up. Since then, she started ART treatment through home delivery service of one of the NGOs. Her reason to get service from NGO instead of ART Centre is the apprehension of meeting relative or friend while visiting the centre, she stated.
"As an HIV infected woman I would like to suggest every women to get tested for HIV before getting married. I am not saying that HIV or AIDS infected person is a burden to society. There are people who can compromise when they contracted HIV from their spouse but some spouse regret and even get divorce," she added.
Seema said that she still have some fear of the society to openly come out and get ART treatment. However, gathering all courage, she has begun to get treatment from the centre.
Community Mobiliser of Social Awareness Service Organization, Mairenbam Sanamatum said that there are still many HIV-infected persons who are afraid to come out and get ART treatment because of stigma and discrimination. Some who can afford get treatment. On the other hand, out of poverty and unable to afford transport charges to get the ART regime, many infected men and women quit the free treatment service in between.
She further said that many woman are bold enough to disclose their HIV status and even spread information about ART.
Sanamatum, who has been into home delivery of ART service and counselling to PLHIV pregnant woman said that over 200 woman had counselled about detection of HIV and early treatment so far and at present 60 of them are being treated under her. During her service, she accounted many instances of women unwilling to take ART treatment mainly because of fear of society. But after proper advise, they accepted it and later many of them had linked to government ART centre, she added.
She further said that stigma and discrimination created by ignorance that existed in early period of drug issue does not exist any longer. But somehow people's tendency of searching the root cause of HIV infection has made infected person stay away from society, she said, adding that to prevent further spreading of HIV or AIDS in the society, PLHIV need lots of moral support.
Phurailatpam Keny Devi
IFP Reporter, IMPHAL, Manipur