They say ignorance is bliss. But at what cost? Ignorance brings along with it cruelty and misery as unhappy bedfellows and, more often than not, ignorance kills.
Think of it as walking down the street and seeing a mob of people running toward you. Although your first instinct is to run, you do not know what they are running from. Once the crowd has disappeared, amidst the settling dust is a scared little girl running towards you. She is HIV positive.
The Human Immuno Deficiency Virus, or HIV, causes Acquired Immuno Deficiency Syndrome (AIDS). The first case of AIDS in Goa was reported in 1987. Any person infected with HIV must live with it for a lifetime and can transmit the infection to other people.
AIDS, on the other hand, is the final stage of the HIV infection wherein the person’s immunity has been greatly compromised, and this will ultimately result in the death of the person.
December 1, 2022, is observed as World Aids Day. In accordance with this, the Human Touch Foundation is hosting the 3rd Edition of the Goa Red Ribbon Fest.
The festival aims at increasing awareness and information, and working with the goal of desensitising people towards those who suffer from HIV.
“In Goa, we have approximately 330 adolescents and young people living with HIV. Most of these cases are mother-to-child transmissions. They go through different crises at every developmental stage that they pass through while living with HIV. Even though there are facilities available to help them, they are not able to access these services because they do not want to disclose their HIV status, owing to fear of rejection from society,” said Applesta Maryann da Costa, Head of Operations, Human Touch Foundation.
HIV is spread by sexual intercourse with an infected partner, transfusion of infected blood, use of unsterilised needles and from an infected mother to her baby.
Yet, lack of information is why people never hug an infected person, shake their hands or share a meal with them.
“Even up to this day, HIV is associated with morality. People do not realise that there are other ways of transmission as well. The fear of being judged is why the HIV patients keep to themselves,” Applesta added.
The Red Ribbon Festival, which is taking place over two days, November 30 and December 1, 2022, at Jardim Garcia de Orta, Panjim, includes various schools and colleges in its several competitions and activities, like a Bookmark-Making and Best Out of Waste competitions, and a Film Screening to create awareness in a fun manner.
There is still a lot of stigma and discrimination which affects the mental health of people living with HIV. The goal is to educate young minds so that they can grow up to be responsible and empathetic.
“The new infections are spreading in the younger generation of people because they are sexually active and do not have the knowledge that is needed to engage in informed decisions, where they can protect themselves and their loved ones. Comprehensive sexual education is something that is still lacking in our educational system,” explained Applesta.
A ray of hope was seen when research stated that HIV is a manageable chronic illness. If the prescribed medicines are taken on time, and in the correct doses, the virus can reach an undetectable stage. If this stage is maintained, the carrier may not be able to transmit the virus anymore.
If you made it to the end of this article, the next time all the people have run away, be the first to take a moment to stop and pick up that little girl and give her a hug - a harbinger of strength and love for the life that she is going to live, and because it is going to be a while before people stop running.