HIV positive survivors living with a secret hard to reveal

Kathmandu, July 7:

Sabita Thapa is a healthy and confident woman. Going by her appearance, one can hardly say she has been living with HIV for 12 years. Fearing discrimination and victimisation, 25-year-old Thapa has kept the secret to herself and her husband. The last 12 years have not been easy for her. Thapa — a trafficking survivor — was sent back to her in village in Sindhupalchowk after she got infected with HIV. “It is very suffocating to keep it (HIV-positive status) to yourself,” says Thapa, whose parents still do not know about her HIV-positive status.

“I fear stigmatisation and discrimination from my family and community. If I reveal my HIV status, people will dig into my past and see me in a different light,” says Thapa, who is associated with an organisation that works for HIV-infected women.

The number of women who are both HIV-positive and survivors of trafficking is very small. Fearing victimisation and stigmatisation, HIV-infected women do not dare make their status public, says Anu Tamang, president of Shakti Samuha, an organisation working for the survivors of trafficking.

“As they cannot reveal their status, they have to undergo tremendous psychological pressure. They are deprived of medical treatment and suffer from various illnesses.”

Those women who contracted HIV from their husbands are relatively less victimised by trafficking survivors, Tamang says, adding that the government should come up with a clear policy to protect HIV victims from victimisation and make sure they get help.

Rights of HIV-infected people, including the rights to adequate care and services, are violated due to the absence of relevant legal provisions. “Policies, legal provisions and resources can help change the values and institutions,” says Sapana Pradhan Malla, director of the Forum for Women, Law and Development.

A draft law on HIV has been prepared and this needs to be enforced to protect the rights of HIV positive and AIDS.

Poverty, gender equality and illiteracy are causes of trafficking and HIV infection. Joint efforts should be made to combat trafficking and HIV infection.