Already living with stigma, HIV/AIDS sufferers also have to struggle through Covid-19 and the threats this new disease poses, the Project Director of Meghalaya AIDS Control Society (MACS) has said two days before World AIDS Day.
Meghalaya has 5,107 registered people living with HIV, with most found in East Khasi HIlls, West Jaintia Hills and East Jaintia Hills.
“People living with HIV have always faced stigma and discrimination and we see that this is also happening with Covid-19 patients,” Dr. R Allya said.
“We have seen the challenges the whole world is facing right now due to the pandemic and these same challenges have also been faced by people living with HIV,” she added.
She also said that this health crisis is hitting the poorest, the most vulnerable and the marginalized and the challenges that people living with HIV are facing in these times are enormous.
It is apt then that the theme for this year’s World AIDS Day, on December 1, is ‘Global Solidarity, Shared Responsibility’.
“Let us unite together to fight the spread of HIV and at the same time let us unite together to also fight Covid-19,” Dr. Allya said.
Urging all to do away with stigma, and discrimination, she appealed to support people living with HIV and to extend help for those suffering from Covid-19.
Dr. Allya said that stigma and discrimination against people with HIV has been there for a long time because of the modes of transmission, like the sexual route, which is one of the common ways of getting HIV.
“Maybe because of this people living with HIV suffer this sigma and discrimination,” the MACS Project Director said.
She also said that one should know one basic fact, namely that it is easy to catch Covid-19 but it is not easy to get HIV, because the modes of transmission of the latter are through sexual contact, sharing needles with infected persons (by intravenous drug users), by infected blood (unclean needles or unscreened blood), or from mother to child during pregnancy.
“So HIV is not infected from a sneeze, a touch or by hugging. We don’t need social distancing for HIV. But we only need to change our behavior. We have been advocating behavioral change in the case of Covid-19. This we also need in case of HIV too,” Dr. Allya said.
She also said that there are integrated counselling and testing centres (ICTC) in all government facilities free of cost. There are also four antiretroviral therapy (ART) centres in the state – Shillong Civil Hospital, Tura Civil Hospital, Jowai Civil Hospital and NEIGRIHMS.
Dr. Allya also said that even if one tests HIV positive, it is not the end of the world. There are people in the state with HIV who are living normal, healthy lives because they are adhering to the treatment and taking medicines regularly.
However, despite the positive outlook, the MACS Project Director expressed concern that some people living with HIV have stopped treatment.
She appealed to those who have given up on their midway to come back to the ART centres and restart their free treatment.