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Determined effort

HIV positive certainly does not mean death

It has taken a decade for him to come out of seclusion and tell the world without hesitation, "I'm HIV positive."

Now he speaks at meetings and organises awareness programmes for his ilk and urges them to face the grim reality.

"If I can live, so could you," he tells them. Being one of the thousands of `survivors' who live with hope, S. Anbalagan's words carry much conviction.

At the age of 24, while trying for a job abroad, Mr. Anbalagan was found to be HIV positive and he felt the whole world had come down upon him. For seven to eight years, he went into a self-imposed seclusion, shunning family members and relatives.

He dared not step outside the room and hit the bottle, haunted by constant fear of death, health problems and above all neighbours' taunting comments.

Mr. Anbalagan rewinds his past: "There was not much awareness then. I was in Mumbai, working as a fitter in a reputed company. Being away from home, especially with lot of money and age factor, I enjoyed my life to the core without being aware of the impending danger in store."

More positive messages

The real killer is not the virus but the stigma and discrimination attached to it. The need of the hour is not only to spread awareness of the disease but also to disseminate the fact that testing HIV positive certainly does not mean death, as so many people like me have proved, he says.

"It is these positive messages that need to be spread strongly in awareness campaigns, which tend to focus more on use of condoms and having safe sex, which are anyway no less important," he says and adds that he always stand as a testimony that HIV victims can live for long, if they get proper medical treatment.

After meeting Kausalya of `Women Positive Network' in Chennai and Ramapandian of `Tamil Nadu Positive-plus Association,' Mr. Anbalagan realised that he too can lead a normal life like others, with proper care and treatment. As a next step, he started searching for a job and landed one with Teddy Trust in Tirumangalam near Madurai, where he counselled and created awareness among truck drivers.

Awareness programmes

Later, with his experience and love for serving the `HIV positives,' Mr. Anbalagan floated the `Madurai District HIV Positive People Welfare Society' in 2004. Listing out the society's activities as conducting awareness programmes by roping in SHG members and programmes in colleges, he says the society also takes up advocacy programmes.

Though the society was started with seven members, it has now grown to enlist 730 members, including 115 women and 182 widows. The society collects a meagre sum of Rs.60 as annual subscription and Rs.10 as entry fee. It also serves as a temporary home for people who come to the Government Rajaji Hospital for treatment. The rooms are rented out to them for Rs.10 a day. Besides, the society also arranges marriages between HIV positives.

Psycho-social support

The main issue, he feels, is psycho-social support, especially from doctors. In the Government Rajaji Hospital, he claims that doctors hesitate to provide treatment for HIV positive patients. And he had fought successfully with the doctors seeking treatment for four cases.

"The awareness campaigns have certainly made a difference, but the situation is far from ideal. We have so many cases where people are leading healthy lives 12 to 15 years after being tested HIV positive," he says.

Awareness should not only be created of HIV and AIDS but on the fact that though there is no cure for the virus, it is controllable because many spend their life's earnings with quacks, who promise miracle remedies.

"I have lost all my property and savings to quacks. I can live a comfortable life if I had my savings with me now," he says and adds that people should discuss about HIV and AIDS even at home.

Mixed emotions

Though all positives have mixed emotions of dejection and fear, they suffer for no fault of theirs; especially women, who contracts the virus from their husbands. Many nurture a grouse against the society, which is aggravated by the indifference of doctors and others.

Mr. Anbalagan claims there should be about 15,000 HIV-positive people in Madurai district and this number may increase if people who get treatment at private hospitals come forward to disclose their identity.

Mr. Anbalagan and his wife A. Hema and few other positives, who render their service to the positives, have big dreams to work and serve for them, but are faced with paucity of funds.

The positives quip: `Life is not all about achieving one's dreams and living successfully. It also includes helping others to live.

Madurai District HIV Positive People Welfare Society is an example of humanistic outreach. Getting involved can make a difference to many!'

S.S.KAVITHA

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