Coinciding with the World AIDS Day on 1st December 2011, five HIV Positive people decided to go public with their disease. These brave acts on the part of these people will go down in the Bhutanese history as an exemplary deed who put their life, reputation and public out casting on the line to educate people about AIDS and demystify so that people do not conceive the AIDS as demonized killer as the people conceived now.
Such brave actions from them wouldn’t have come in more opportune time than now when Bhutan has detected 270 HIV Positive people with 48 people dead till now since its first detection in 1998. In last month alone 24 people were detected. UNAIDS estimated that Bhutan would have more than 500 infected people till now. This brave action is also an opportunity to view the disease from the third perspectives. Till now, we have been hearing about the AIDS from only two perspectives; health and Public.
Till recently, the media and health officials have educated the general public infusing fear tactics and demonizing the disease as killer with no remedy. In the Royal decree issued on 24th May 2004 by His Majesty the Fourth King, it talks about the importance of sharing ‘the responsibility by all Bhutanese people to prevent HIV/AIDS and providing care, support and compassion to those infected with HIV.’ Even in the decree, there is no mention about the normalcy of disease as like any other diseases. The disease was viewed as different at that time.
After a decade since the first detection, the laudable act on part of the victims will go long way in normalizing the public notion and treatment of the victims as normal people and at the sametime not really being overcautious and over-the-board compassionate as done by His Holiness the Je Khenpo whose prayers and views were aired just before LIVE airing of HIV Patients Programme.
During the observation of HIV Day themed ‘Getting to Zero’, Her Majesty the Queen Mother Ashi Sangay Choden Wangchuk commended the Wangda Dorji’s effort in establishing the Lhaksam and its efforts to educate, de-stigmatize and support the victims. She also emphasized in two things; Zero discrimination and Zero new infection.
Her Royal Highness, Ashi Kezang Wangmo Wangchuk in recorded message emphasized on the importance of understanding the status of HIV/AIDS. She said that the HIV/AIDS is no different than other diseases like Hepatitis and Tuberculosis.
Wangda Dorji who was the founder of Lhaksam told in the LIVE interview that her young sister who disclosed about AIDS childishly to her friends was refused their company later. Wangda’s wife Tshering Choden accompanied him to LIVE programme.
He also talked about his interaction with ex-soldiers who was discarded by people and the monks who was dismissed from monk body after the detection. This also proved that even the monk bodies were also not as compassionate as Je Khenpo zealously preached in public and media.
Wangda Dorji was first detected in 2006 during his wife’s pregnancy. When he was detected, he felt guilty even to look at his wife’s eyes as he infected her. His first reaction was how he would show his face in the family and public. He attributed this infection to his seven years stint with drugs.
Pema, another man shared about his experience as a HIV/AIDS victim. He first told to his wife about disease. His family (except brother) and his in-laws publicized about the AIDS whenever they go. Even his parents discarded him. During the anniversary of His Majesty’s Birth, security and government officials didn’t allow him in. There was no support even from some health officials at that time. Due to discrimination, he attempted suicide.
Pema also shared about his symptoms. He had diarrhea and fever which couldn’t be cured by any normal medicine. He was detected in 2000.
Doctor Lotey said that when we say HIV/AIDS is normal, people shouldn’t throw wind to the caution. The prevention is very important. The public and LIVE appearances of the five victims were preceded by various media sensitization for a week.
The trials and tribulation faced by the victims do not fit into the GNH and Buddhist society where every creature supposed to be treated as same. Meanwhile, Prime Minister said that Government tried their best to buy the expensive anti-vitriol Tablets on monthly basis.