March 1 is Zero Discrimination Day. HIV-related discrimination continues to plague the lives of people living with HIV (PLHIV). They are treated in dehumanizing ways, face barriers in accessing basic services like healthcare and education, and are often victims of violence and other forms of discrimination and marginalization.
Take the case of 13-year-old Prashant (name changed), from Kathua district in Jammu state in India. He is HIV-positive. His school learned of his status. The teachers mocked at him, and his peers abused him. His brother, two years elder to him, was also picked on.
“It was a horrifying experience. We were treated with disgrace. School was my favourite place to spend my day. No more!” recounts Prashant.
The mother of the boys made several rounds to school authorities, all in vain. She then approached the local Care & Support Centre (CSC) established under Alliance India’s Vihaan programme with support from the Global Fund. Responding to discrimination is a central activity of every CSC. The CSCs have established Discrimination Response Team (DRT) at district level to address these challenges. DRTs provide not only psychological support to PLHIV who have faced discrimination but also advocate on their behalf in response to discrimination they have experienced. The teams inform appropriate district or government authorities about the incidents of discrimination faced by PLHIV and take appropriate steps to address the same.
In this case, the DRT promptly organized a meeting with the sarpanch (head of the village government) and discussed the issue. The DRT educated him that the behavior of the school towards the boys was wrong. Together they approached the school authorities and encouraged them to treat the boys as any other students. The authorities were convinced after several rounds of discussions and committed to be fair to the boys.
“I am happy to be back to school. Though I see a change in behavior of my teachers and peers, it will take some time for me to adjust again,” says Prashant.
Discrimination denies PLHIV their dignity and respect and leads to reduced self-conﬁdence, loss of motivation and withdrawal from society. This discrimination has profound implications on all HIV-related services, from prevention to treatment, care and support. It reduces people’s willingness to be tested for HIV, to disclose their HIV status, to practice safer sex and to access health care. Vihaan is committed to creating a stigma and discrimination-free environment for PLHIV, and the DRTs are already proving to be effect tools to proactively respond to discrimination.
The author of this post, Ankita Bhalla, is Communications Associate at India HIV/AIDS Alliance.
With support from the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, Vihaan is establishing 350 Care & Support Centres across India that will help expand access to services, increase treatment adherence, reduce stigma and discrimination, and improve the quality of life of PLHIV. The centres will support PLHIV, including those from underserved and marginalized populations who have had difficulty in accessing treatment including women, children and high-risk groups in 31 states and territories.