Latest statistics released by UNAIDS reveal that while 2 million people died from AIDS related illnesses last year, over 33 million people are still living with HIV across the globe. Asia is home to about 4.7 million HIV positive individuals, of which 2.3 million can be found in India alone.
While throughout the country, and particularly in South India, the disease is primarily transferred through sexual intercourse, in the North Eastern states of India, transfer often happens amongst injecting drug users. If preventive measures are not taken, HIV can also be passed on from a positive mother to her child in any number of ways: during pregnancy, through delivery, or through breast-feeding.
Ivonne Camaroni, the HIV/AIDS project officer for Unicef India, emphasizes the importance of antenatal care in order to diagnose the infection at an early stage, and take preventive steps to ensure it is not passed on from mother to child.
Those living with HIV indicate that the social stigma associated with the virus can often be as debilitating as the physiological hardships. Particularly for children, being associated with HIV can be a painful experience: they are often ostracized at school and in the community at large, while simultaneously being deprived of the support systems that should ideally be available at home.
AIDS activists emphasize the importance of spreading awareness--not only about how to safeguard oneself against contracting HIV, but also about misconceptions surrounding the virus: its nature, communicability and the lifestyles of individuals who contract it.
While the Indian government is currently focused more on prevention than care, activists like Anjali Gopalan, founder and executive director of the Naz Foundation, emphasize that for the over 2 million Indians who live with HIV, there is hope. “HIV is definitely a disease that can be managed,” says Gopalan. “The good part is you now have second line drugs, so even if a person gets resistant to some of the first line drugs there are other drugs they can access.”