A usual weekday, the same daily grind, the same office and a workshop on HIV/AIDS. A team from Kolkata had come to capacity build us on HIV/AIDS. I knew everyone in the training hall except for one person sitting right next to me. He seemed to be a field level worker and I thought he must be a part of one our HIV/AIDS projects at the field supervisor level. But he was someone more than that.
The round of introductions began and while I was still wondering who this frail looking man was, he spoke out. Mohan (name changed) said he was a part of the Jharkhand Network of Positive People. This network is constituted by HIV positive people who have come together for advocacy of their rights as well as their affected family members. So this implied he was HIV positive. He added in this introduction that he would talk about his survival for existence towards the end of the training. Finally this part of the training came.
The confidence and ease of his discourse was truly impressive. He took us back to the year 1992 when he had migrated to Mumbai for work. He visited a brothel with friends and forgot about it as a passing event. Suddenly in 1997 he became very sick with stomach infection and had to go back home. He could never revert back to normal health after that. Frequent bouts of diarrhoea and vomiting marred his health. All medication failed. He became extremely weak and weighed around 30 kgs only. He once came across a newspaper article that mentioned the symptoms that he had and correlated it to the fatal virus HIV. That moment he recalled his brothel visit and was now sure that the virus had entered his body. Owing to the fear of being stigmatised he decided to keep this truth a secret and to never go for a blood test. But his family forcibly took him to one of the biggest hospitals in Ranchi. There he was tested positive.
His fears came true instantly. The staff of this so called reputed hospital instantly secluded him and along with his family he was thrown out in the middle of the night. His father was told that he may not see the light of the day. The fear of being ostracised by the society was already killing him. So once on the road madness engulfed him and he stoned his father and wife to go away and leave him to die. But poor people somehow brought him back to the village and arranged for medical care for him. But news of his positive status spread and his family was alienated from the community. Unable to get any medical help, he asked his family to get saline bottles which were badly needed to keep him going. He asked his wife to use her hair ribbon to block the blood flow and insert the saline needle in his hands. Soon she mastered this method and kept her husband going for another five years. His condition however did not improve.
He then came to know about a health centre of a NGO called Holy Cross running near his village. He went there for treatment and came in touch with the workers of a HIV/AIDS intervention called the ICHHAA Project. This was a turning point in his life and gave light to the lost hopes of his family. He came out of the AIDS stage and his CD4 count (white blood cells that give us immunity to infections) improved. Constant counselling, medication (Anti Retro Viral Therapy), capacity building on HIV/AIDS issues and policies and interaction with other PLWHAs (People Living With HIV/AIDS) has helped him regained his health and confidence to face the world. Today he is an active member and Secretary of the Jharkhand Network of Positive People (JNP+), a non-profit organisation registered under the Societies Registration Act.
Today there are several such PLHWAs who have come out in the open and declared their status, specially in Hazaribagh District of Jharkhand state where migration is the highest and so is the spread of this infection. People like Mohan are an inspiration for all who are fighting this virus and winning over it!