(World AIDS Day is observed on December 1st every year. With more than 21 million patients, India has the third-highest burden of the disease after South Africa and Nigeria.)
Being HIV positive is no longer a death sentence. With the advances that medical science is making, ‘positive’ patients can live at par with negative people. Always remember, the virus is not in control of your life - you are!
Jyoti Dhawale’s Story
39-year-old Jyoti was diagnosed in 2006, she found love with her ‘positive’ status and married in 2013.
Jyoti, a vivacious HIV activist and a blogger is on a mission to empower people to take control of their health and open up about their status. The three abortions she had between 2003 and 2006, did her in. “Oral contraceptives made me nauseous and my ex-husband didn’t care about condoms,” says Jyoti on Jaagore.com.
I was tested HIV positive in 2006, possibly when undergoing an abortion, through infected needles or through unsterilized operation equipment. After learning that I was HIV-positive, I was very afraid of the stigma and didn’t know how to face society. My health started to deteriorate physically, mentally and emotionally as well. Slowly, my ex-husband put me in the background, fell in love with someone else and divorced me.Jyoti Dhawale, HIV+ Patient
That she had destroyed records of all three previous surgeries meant she couldn’t hold anyone accountable.
Jyoti took 5 years to come out in the open as HIV-positive with the help of an activist in US. It was not easy, but she did not have a choice. She met her current husband, an HIV-negative partner in an online chatroom.
For her husband, it was love at second sight - after a whirlwind romance of two years, they tied the knot in October 2013.
My second marriage is what changed the course of my life and made me what I am today. That was the beginning of my dream to make the world a better place for people living with HIV/AIDS – against stigma and discrimination. I believed in this dream. I chased it. And it has come true.Jyoti Dhawale, HIV+ Patient
Does the fear of untimely death hang over the couple? “With proper exercise, diet and medication,” he says, “an HIV+ve person can outlive an HIV-ve one. We are making sure Jyoti does.”
Vennila, 29, is from a small village in Tamil Nadu, in southern India. 14 years ago, she found out she had HIV. Since then, she has learned to live “positively,” and with guidance from EngenderHealth, she has become a counsellor in HIV treatment education and a role model for her peers.
She describes her journey to Engender Health.
In 2001, my husband tested positive for HIV. The doctors asked me and my son to take the test too. I tested positive, but my son was negative. I did not know about HIV, and when they told me I had it, I thought it was some kind of blood group. But then during counselling, they explained HIV and what it does to the body, that’s when I got a complete shock. Even before I could understand the implications, my husband passed away. It only took two months. In that time of sadness, there was one comfort, that my son’s HIV status was negative.Vennila, HIV+ Patient
After her husband’s death, her in-laws ostracised her - such is the stigma of HIV. She moved in with her family and started working at an AIDS NGO. From a grassroots worker, she quickly rose to a public health speaker on AIDS and became a part of the first government AIDS consortium in Tamil Nadu.
The biggest challenge for Vennila was accepting her own diagnosis. The only reason she didn’t end her life was her little son, her only hope and only reason for living.
14 years into the disease, she is managing her health just fine. She says, she wouldn’t have missed this journey for the world.
(This story was first published on World AIDS Day in 2015)