‘It is worse than the pain of contracting the disease’

Shanthinath (name changed), who is undergoing treatment for AIDS in the city, has not been visited by his family for the past seven years.

“Whenever I try to meet my family members, the elders do not allow younger ones to touch me.”

Mr. Shanthinath, who is at Snehasadan — care and support centre for those infected and affected with HIV/AIDS — was isolated when his family learnt about his disease. “It was worse than the pain of contracting disease”. He is now serving as the caretaker for other patients in the centre.

Another patient was so humiliated when she was with her family found some solace only after she joined the centre.

A 37-year-old HIV positive from Koppal district has kept his and wife’s condition a secret because the situation would be “unimaginable” if people came to know about it.

Even as the district has made considerable strides in containing the spread of the disease, the stigma associated with the disease continues to haunt patients with even those in healthcare sector being ignorant about the way the disease spread.

A medical officer associated with Anti-Retroviral Therapy (ART) at Wenlock Hospital said, “Even some of the doctors and nurses hesitate to speak to HIV patients.”

She said there are cases of private hospitals refusing to treat persons with AIDS particularly if they have open wounds.

Kishore Kumar of the Dakshina Kannada AIDS Prevention Control Unit pointed out that lack of awareness among people about the disease was responsible for the stigma and the problems patients faced because of it.

He said Red Ribbon Clubs have been started in 32 colleges in Mangalore to create awareness through drama, street plays and demonstration. The fact that youths are more vulnerable to contract the disease brings the issue of stigma into greater focus.

Most persons registering at Snehasadan are in the age group of 20-35 years.

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39-year-old Pooja (name changed) contracted HIV 12 years ago when she was in Mumbai. Soon she returned to her mother-in-law in Udupi.

Six months later she was shown the door forced to stay at her mother's place.

Her husband, also an HIV positive, committed suicide unable to fight the stigma. Pooja has been in the Snehasadan for nine years now along with her daughter, who is also an HIV positive.