Social discrimination is a big challenge that HIV patients face every day.
“While interacting with the patients, some shared how difficult their life is to live with such a disease. Some said they are being discriminated in schools, public areas and family,” said Finance officer of Lhaksam, Ugyen Dorji.
He shared that most of the patients feel uncomfortable to talk to people and to linger around them due to their low self esteem.
“So these are some of the challenges that they are facing and their self-esteem is very low,” he added.
When talking to positive patients, they shared how they are being discriminated and ignored by the people. They said they face many difficulties in making the public understand about the disease.
Some said that when people are educated on HIV, high-level people tend to misunderstand them and are not ready to accept the facts, but in some cases dealing with uneducated people, after giving the awareness, they tend to come forward with help.
Tshering Choden, 27, a mother of four was detected as HIV positive in 2006, although she suspects she might have contracted the disease earlier. She decided to come out with her HIV positive status in the media in 2011.
She said, “Though myself and husband are both positive, our children are negative. We face lots of difficulties because people are not ready to accept that our children are negative though both of us are positive and that indirectly hampers our children’s lives.”
She said most people are not ready to accept them and having to bear the discrimination takes a toll on their well being.
“It is a bitter experience for me. I sent one of my children to buy some stuffs from a shop, but unfortunately the shopkeeper sent her back saying the shop will not sell anything to a child of a positive patient. So this is how people treat us,” Tshering Choden said.
A mother of two children, Tasha Dema, 27, said that she was detected as HIV positive in 2006 and declared her health status in the media in 2014.
“I was detected as positive when I was four months pregnant with my second child. I am thankful that my two children are negative. It seems that the disease was transmitted through my husband,” she said.
She said it is hard for them to make the people understand about the disease. Even with awareness programs, just a few are ready to accept and help them but there are many more who do not listen to what they are talking about.
She said, “I sometime had to fight with the people who discriminate my family. Once I had to fight with a woman because she scolded her daughter for drinking the juice which I had given her. She actually was my daughter’s friend.”
She said people are ignorant about HIV/AIDs and think that they might get the same disease if they happen to eat or drink anything from the hand of patient or while talking with them.
“It is not like that, it is every citizen’s responsibility to know about it and to help the people like us. Discrimination kills us,” she said.
World AIDS Day in Bhutan is celebrated from 1 to 6 December. The 6-day long program was initiated to spread awareness on HIV/AIDs with volunteers from different schools and agencies. 60 dance groups and 9 professional artists also helped raise awareness. More than 517 turned up for the event.
Stalls selling fast foods, tea and coffee, games and clothes, the proceeds going to Lhaksam, were set up at the Clock Tower Square. Free services of HIV testing were done.
“It is hard for us to make the program a successful one because we are experiencing such programs stretched for days for the very first time, it is difficult to coordinate,” a coordinator at Lhaksam said.
The latest report issued by the health ministry shows 460 positive patients, the youngest among them is 3 years old and the eldest is in the 60s.
Meanwhile finding funds to support the activities is a major challenge that Lhaksam faces currently. The budget that they got this year is USD 5000 and last year Lhaksam received USD 3000 from UNFPA.
There are 151 members with the Lhaksam. Out of 151 members, 8 members, 2 females and 4 males, revealed their HIV positive status to the public.
Ugyen Dorji, said that the members come from all walks of life; some are students, monks, fresh graduates, armed forces, and of all the age groups.
“Even the LGBT community is under Lhaksam. Until now, on testing, not a single LGBT person was detected positive,” he said.
He pointed out that if HIV detection is made early on then a person can live the same life span, under proper medication, as any other normal person. But if he or she fails to detect it early or fails to report it early then he or she might have less chances of having normal life span as others.