Bir: Under the collaborative partnership strategy by the Himachal Pradesh State AIDS Control Society and the Department of Health, Central Tibetan Administration, an AIDS awareness programme was held at the Tibetan Primary Health Centre in Bir on Saturday. Over 75 community volunteers, social workers and local NGOs participated in the event.
Due to increased vulnerability of Tibetan youth to HIV, the Tibetan govt in exile has recently up-scaling HIV counselling and testing under which over 2,000 people have been tested so far. On the occasion, Chope Paljor Tsering, Kalon (Minister) for the Department of Health, delivered a message which was read out by the department’s special envoy. He stated that the spread of HIV/AIDS knows no border, nor any gender race or nationalities. He underlined the special need to raise awareness among all Tibetans and to empower them in preventing HIV/AIDS in the Tibetan communities, both inside and outside Tibet. “Unless tackled with zeal and dedication, it has the potential to wipe out entire communities,” he said.
Dr RK Sood, District AIDS Project Officer, Kangra, told the participants that a HIV positive person can look healthy. “As a person is asymptomatic for a long time, we cannot know HIV status from the looks. If he is unaware of his status he can continue to unknowingly infect others. With the advent of effective ART, People Living with HIV can live longer and healthier lives, akin to lifelong treatment for hypertension which prevents complications. The benefit of (free) ART can be availed only if we know our HIV status at an early time, akin to detection heart disease by ECG. He further told that free and confidential quality HIV counselling and testing is available in 5 Integrated Counselling and Testing Centres at SDH Palampur, Kangra and Dehra, Zonal Hospital Dharamshala and Tanda Medical College in the district.
Dr Anmol Gupta, faculty of Community Medicine, IGMC Shimla, discussed the issue of stigma and discrimination and addressed the fears of participants to shake hands, sit next to PLHIV, share food and drinks, and desensitised their fears through role play. Those with HIV/AIDS have the right to access care, treatment, and appropriate health and social services and be treated with equal dignity and respect without discrimination against. He told that his holiness the Dalai Lama preached tolerance. He shared various scenarios through games on safe behaviour and life skills to avoid risk situations. He exhorted all participants to facilitate the creation of an enabling environment. Rajinder Kumar MEIO Dharamshala told HIV is an emerging disease in the state, and we need to address these issues at an early stage, so that a proper attitude is fostered, which will enable the people to seek and access counselling and testing services, positive people can be open about their status without fear of stigma. He further elaborated that Under Prevention of Parent to Child Transmission (PPTCT) campaign, pregnant women are being made aware about the risk of vertical transmission and know their status.
Sanjay Dogra, counselor, ICTC Palampur, explained the process of counselling, HIV testing, the problem of TB, and demonstrated the correct technique of condom use. During the occasion, Dr Sonam G Hara, Executive Secretary, TPHC, spoke on the modes of transmission and prevention of HIV. He underscored that HPSACS has reflected its growing commitment to up-scaling the services by collaborating with new partners.
He shared the information that with ART, HIV positives can live long and healthy life, but difficulty in access to ART medicine was a challenge as the ART centre was geographically difficult to access, and requested the Indian health authorities to open a link ART centre in the district. Tsering Lhamo, president, BTS, and local dignitaries were also present on the occasion.