Battling HIV and its stigma

Having been at the receiving end of society and his own family ever since he tested positive for HIV, a man from India’s Arunachal Pradesh state in the Northeast has sent a message on World AIDS Day — to live life positively.

Yumrik Nokpa fights the odds stacked against him.

Yumrik Nokpa fights the odds stacked against him.

Around three years ago, 28-year-old Yumrik Nokpa tested positive for HIV after his wife was also found to be HIV positive during a pregnancy test. After being evicted from his house and ostracised by family members, he now works with the Arunachal Network of Positive People (ArNP+) helping spread awareness about the disease and stigma.

The ArNP+, an organisation comprising 14 HIV-positive individuals, was formed in 2012 with the help and encouragement of the National AIDS Control Organisation and AP State AIDS Control Society.

Its primary work focuses on providing counselling and helping HIV-positive individuals live healthy lives with the virus.

Nokpa, who is the general secretary of the ArNP+, says unlike before, people in the state are beginning to understand the disease and slowly letting go of the stigma associated with it.

But that was not the case three years ago.

When Nokpa and his wife made their HIV status public in 2011, the landlord evacuated them from their rented house.

At that time, Nokpa was an auto-rickshaw driver and when news of his condition reached his fellow auto-rickshaw drivers, he was assaulted by two of them. “They were my friends,” he says. Even his own family disowned him. “How can someone live without a livelihood?”

Now, sitting in his cosy office, Nokpa says HIV-positive people face immense challenges to find a livelihood. “If HIV-positive people tell potential employers about their condition, we risk not getting jobs. If we hide the fact, we may lose our jobs if employers find out later,” he says.

However, he says attitudes are changing and people often approach them to enquire about HIV and AIDS. His friends who had assaulted him have since apologised.

Living in a kutcha house, Nokpa says he believes people should abide by the live and let live policy. While both his wife and he are HIV-positive, their two sons are not and that helps him stay optimistic. He continues to maintain a “positive” outlook on life and says, “Let the virus die with me.”

This story was first published in December 2014. Link to original story: http://www.telegraphindia.com/1141202/jsp/northeast/story_19119124.jsp#.VexUmfmqqkp

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