The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Disease kills, so does stigma

Darjeeling, Nov. 26: Mukesh Sharma (name changed) almost got a job in one of the reputed schools here, but for a blood donation camp.

Just a few days before his formal appointment as a Group D staff, the 34-year-old was detected as HIV positive during a blood donation camp in a church. Life has never been the same for Sharma again.

“Even I was shocked, but since it was a camp, word soon spread. The school authorities told me immediately that they could not give me the job as they were unwilling to take any risk,” said Sharma, a member of Shanker Foundation — an organisation of HIV/AIDS patients. He was one of those who participated in the public hearing of grievances of HIV/AIDS patients, organised by District Legal Services Authority at the Darjeeling court yesterday.

Sharma knows that an injustice has been meted out to him but he and the foundation members decided not to protest as his mother and wife were also employed in the same school. “I feared that my mother and my wife would bear the brunt,” said Sharma, proving that despite the campaigns and the awareness drives, society has to go a long way before it can accept people afflicted by the disease.

Though the grievances were recorded in complete confidentiality, many victims shared their experiences with The Telegraph. “There is not a single doctor who can understand our problem,” said another member of the foundation.

The members maintained that they had decided to come out in the open to ensure that that other people do not face a similar fate. “We have never divulged that we are HIV/AIDS patients to our neighbours for fear that our life will be made (more) miserable,” said Santosh Lepcha (name changed).

Coming together has helped them face the world. “We now move about in villages, educating the people and helping them detect the symptoms. We don’t mind going hungry but at the end we too need funds for our foundation,” said Lepcha.

Maj (retd) K.P. Malla, member of the technical committee, Darjeeling District AIDS Control Society said it was extremely necessary to have CD-4 (an indicator of the health of the immune system) counters at Darjeeling. “I have been raising this issue at different forums but to no avail. It is only when the CD-4 count is 200 that a patient is administered anti-viral therapy. As of now, the blood samples have to be sent to North Bengal Medical College and Hospital and this takes a long time,” said Malla.

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