On the eve of World AIDS Day, people working towards spreading awareness about the issue talk about what motivates them to march on.

There was a time when people with HIV/AIDS were ostracised by society, shunned by their own families and treated like outcasts. The slew of television and print campaigns and the relentless efforts by people working towards spreading awareness about the issue have managed to make soften the stigma associated with HIV/AIDS. However, even today there are people and children with HIV/AIDS who are shunned not just by society but also their families. And working to help them are a few individuals, whose relentless work over the years has helped several HIV/AIDS patients gain some semblance of normalcy.

Dr. Nirmala Jyothi, founder of Joy Home for Children, has been working to provide a normal life to HIV-affected children whose families have rejected them. “The plight of these children is miserable. I wanted to provide these children with a home, education and healthcare. At least this way they will have a future,” she says.

Quiz Dr. Tirupathi Reddy, chief administrator of Sivananda Rehabilitation Centre, that runs a home for HIV affected children, on what motivates him to work with them and he says, “Most of them lose their parents at a young age. We have to create confidence in them to face life and also give them the hope that they too can lead normal, healthy lives.”

For some others it is the joy of seeing people with HIV/AIDS thrive that drives them to work for the cause. Take Ashok for instance, the father of two who spent several years working with HIV/AIDS affected people until some time back. “They already deal with a lot due to their condition. The last thing they need is for it to play upon their minds. They deserve a shot at normal life and if I could do something to make their lives better, then why not,” he says.

The motivation to lend their support for a cause could also stem from the fact that the private sector can leave one feeling jaded sometimes. “I wanted to work in a public health program and something that would take me out of my comfort zone of working in the private sector. When the opportunity to work with Avahan, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation’s HIV/AIDS initiative in India, came along I was struck by the scale at which the program operated. This offered me an exciting opportunity to apply my management skills to a public health setting. The fact that we were poised as a national program to reverse the tide of the HIV/AIDS epidemic in India sounded exciting and I wanted to be part of the script along with so many others who work tirelessly behind the scenes,” says Matangi Jayaram, senior program officer at the Foundation.

Despite such progressive thinking and increasing awareness, there is still some stigma attached to HIV/AIDS. “I can’t have the HIV children at a location in the city because the neighbours will object. This is why our home for these children is in Madhapur village. There is still a lot of stigma. We had a case where a girl, who lost her parents to AIDS, was shunned by her family. And this girl didn’t even have HIV,” elaborates Dr. Jyothi.

But the tide has begun to turn believes Matangi. “It has been a gradual evolution but in addition to awareness I also see a slow but steady change in mindsets and attitudes among general public towards HIV/AIDS. We do come across instances of stigma and discrimination even today but they are few and far between compared what we saw even five to six years ago,” she says.