Stigma and a Handshake


Reading the very insightful article Generation HIV: Growing up under a shadow of infection by By Madhumita Venkataramanan on, accessed on 24 July 2012 and news on Hilary Clinton appointing U.S. Global AIDS Coordinator Eric Goosby to lead the development of a blueprint that outlines U.S. goals and objectives to achieve an AIDS-free generation,  expected to be unveiled on World AIDS Day 2012, reminded me of my quasi experience with HIV people.

We were on a retreat with white collar colleagues from an international development agency in a HIV awareness campaign several years ago. Colleagues from World Health Organisation invited HIV people to talk to us. I remember quite vividly the faces of that honest open small group of people at the entrance of the room we were all gathered. They were shy, but not uncomfortable. It was us, the rest, who were more uncomfortable, in a very relaxed otherwise natural setting.

They had simple stories to tell. They were obviously in a daily persistent fight for their lives. With smiles on their faces. At the end of their story telling, one man with a dignifying expression extended his hand asking if anyone would like to shake it.

I had an urge, but that ‚socially acceptable behaviour’ voice in my head stopped me.

That hand was there, extended, for a few minutes. In vain.

One person from the audience shouted ‚ you all should be in closed camps, away from our children’. I could see the pain in those people’s eyes. Being rejected and humiliated when fighting for your life is a double punishment, don’t you think?

I am sorry for that.

Should I meet now that person, I would be the first to extend my hand and give it a firm shake.

And apologise profoundly.

P.S. a lot is done, more needs to be done on marginalization of those living with HIV, at a very basic human level, in addition to all overwhelmingly medical and epidemiological approaches at local and global level. Further reading on, ‘Legalizing’ HIV, by Devex Editor on 24 July 2012 on Launch of the U.N. Commission on HIV and the Law. By Naomi Burke-Shyne, program manager at International Development Law Organization’s HIV and health law initiative

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