World AIDS Day, Dec 1st 2010:
World AIDS Day provides an opportunity for all of us - individuals, communities and political leaders - to take action and ensure that human rights are protected and global targets for HIV/AIDS prevention, treatment and care are met. World AIDS Day is important in reminding people that HIV has not gone away and that its still amongst us. And that there are many things still needs to be done.
The theme for World AIDS Day 2010 is 'Universal Access and Human Rights'. Global leaders have pledged to work towards providing universal access to HIV/AIDS prevention, treatment and care, thus recognizing these as fundamental human rights. Valuable progress has been made in increasing access to HIV/AIDS services, yet greater commitment is needed around the world if the goal of universal access is to be achieved. Millions of people continue to be infected with HIV every year. In low- and middle-income countries, less than half of those in need of antiretroviral therapy are receiving it, and too many do not have access to adequate care services.
To affirm and commemorate this relevant day, CHOICE—HIV/AIDS Initiative and Kunphen: Centre for Substance dependence, together with the support of Department of Health, Central Tibetan Administration, World AIDS Day was observed in Main Market Square of McLeod Ganj, Dharamshala.
After several brainstorming meetings with the members of CHOICE, Kunphen and Department of Health CTA, ensued a final meeting on 29th of Nov. The meeting came to the conclusion of establishing Awareness and Information Stalls / Booths in the main square of McLeod Ganj in order to reach out to the maximum people, thus meeting our objectives in providing awareness on HIV/ AIDS.
Likewise, as per our request, the Office of Superintendent of Police of Dharamshala granted us the permission to put up Information and Condom Distribution stalls in the main square of McLeod Ganj on 1st December, 2010 from 9:00 am till 5:00 pm. Attractive and Informative Posters highlighting the importance of the World’s AIDS Day and need of the public awareness and responsilbility etc were pasted all over Dharamshala especially Mcleod Ganj and Gangkyi etc the previous night by our staff.
In early morning of the World AIDs Day, Ms. Kalsang Lhamo, Deputy Secretary and Mr. Lobsang Dhargyal, Dealing Officer of Dept of Health, CTA arrived at CHOICE office in providing their helping hand in setting up the Stalls in the Main Square and preparations were made for the big day. The members of Kunphen and the Director of the organization; Mr. Tenzin lekphel is a joint partner with CHOICE in every preparation for the event and without their contribution we would have failed to attain such success in generating mass awareness in our community.
By 8:30, the morning, every arrangement was completed before the crowd started to throng the market. As His Holiness’s Teaching is also in progress in the Main Tsuglakhang Temple, there is a huge crowd participating in our campaign and taking note of the event. The McLeod main square was congested with not only Tibetans from different regions and the local Indians but also many international and domestic tourists. Everyone is unanimous in appreciating our efforts and the contribution to the general public. Some even offered donations which we refused as the event was totally based on providing free information and condoms etc. The event aimed to disseminate awareness about HIV/AIDS prevention to maximum number of people through free distribution of pamphlets, campaign CDs, Condoms of different types, souvenirs such as Pens, key chains, lockets, batches with theme related to HIV/AIDS, promoting use of Condom and HIV testing.
The two Red stalls was the centre of attraction in the main square and in amazement lots of people came to us to know what we were trying to perform. Many people even didn’t know the basics of the disease at all and we felt satisfied knowing that our core aim of creating awareness was happening and that people felt free to ask about the disease. We distributed more than 4000 condoms of different types such as Love Condom, Durex, Nirodh and even the rare and inaccessible female condoms.
The awareness campaign continued till 5:00 pm in the evening. Two volunteer community health workers from Tibet Charity, Dharamshala also participated and supported the event especially in distributing the pamphlets and condoms.
Meanwhile, in the afternoon, Mr. Phuntsok Chomphel, Project Officer and Mr. Norbu Damdul representing CHOICE—HIV/AIDS Initiative and Ms. Kalsang Lhamo, Deputy Secretary of Department of Health held an Awareness Talk on HIV/AIDS in SARAH, College for Higher Tibetan studies while the rest of the team continued the Awareness Campaign at the Main Square of McLeod Ganj.
During the Talk at Sarah, Ms. Kalsang Lhamo gave brief introduction about the Department of Health’s campaign in fighting against the growth of HI/AIDS infections within the Tibetan communities in India and their initiatives in Care and Support towards People Living with HIV/AIDS.
Mr. Phuntsok gave a power-point presentation on the Basic information on HIV/AIDS. The talk and the presentation tries to break away many myths about the HIV/AIDS and delves in simple way to educate the participants on various aspects of the disease namely; difference between HIV and AIDS, four major modes of infection and prevention methods and habits. He also spoke in detail about how the disease is spreading among the Tibetan community in exile through unhealthy sexual behaviors and lack of preventive knowledge and precaution.
Most importantly, Mr. Phuntsok stressed on the need to avoid and wipe away discriminations against the HIV patients and encourage them to come out without hesitation through community support and acceptance. He quoted numerous incidences of discriminations faced by several TPLHA in the past due to myths and lack of proper knowledge. Only by accepting the HIV/AIDS patient and supporting them, can we eventually reduce the cases of HIV/AIDS that looms large to threaten the very Tibetan race, Mr. Phuntsok stated.
He also urged people to imbibe healthy sexual behaviour and use condom whenever they encounter with strangers and sex workers.
He stressed, "Ironically the condom which is meant to be used as contraceptives and birth control is the only preventive solution for the saving of hundreds and thousands of Tibetans from being killed by HIV/AIDS epidemic. And mind you, in India itself, HIV/AIDS is killing tens of Tibetans every year. So don't get us wrong when we urge you to use condom. We are not asking healthy spouse and partners to use it indiscriminately or control birth. We are simply urging you to save yourself from strangers and HIV infected people by using condom. And one does not conceive unplanned child with a stranger and commercial sex workers, do we? So condom cannot be blamed for not conceiving a child that our struggle and race need so much. We are simply saying that we need a healthy Tibetan race free of HIV/AIDS."
In his concluding remarks, he stressed on the need to go for HIV testing and knowing ones HIV status as a first step to fight against the dreaded disease.
This was followed by a short testimony by HIV patient and CHOICE activist Mr. Norbu Damdul who shared his story of how he married a girl in Delhi and how eventually they were diagnosed with HIV. He further delves into how they went through extreme difficulties and sufferings health wise as well as financially. Later they suffered discriminations and social neglects even from Tibetan Hospital and Guest Houses in Dharamsala. He stated that because of belated detection of HIV infection coupled with social discriminations and humiliation, his wife refused to take treatments and food and finally succumbed to AIDS in a Delhi Hospital. However, Norbu finds a brighter fortune when he met CHOICE and other friends who helped him financially, morally and socially to reach the present stage of health and spirit.
He further stated, "With proper knowledge on HIV disease and strong peer support and understanding, I have gained a lot. Today I live a healthier and happier life with support from friends and society and a positive change that I have gained in my own outlook and approach towards this deadly disease. I appeal to all the young generations to be intelligent in their decisions and never waste their life by reckless habits and attitudes. Do please use condom whenever you have sex with strangers and sex workers. And I also appeal all the Tibetan people to help the HIV patients and not discriminate them. You all can make a great difference to people like us and successfully fight against HIV/AIDS.”
On behalf of every member of CHOICE-HIV/AIDS Initiative and Kunphen centre for substance dependence, HIV and HRC I, most whole-heartedly extend our in-depth gratitude to Department of Health, CTA for their constant and overwhelming support and trust on our organizations and today for this particular event of World’s AIDS Day. Thank You so much.
CHOICE also wish to acknowledge the overwhelming support from Aids Healthcare Foundation, India cares for free facilitation of one box of Love Condom and 11 boxes of INSTi HIV-1/ HIV-2 Antibody testing kit without which the event wouldn’t be such a success.
We would also like to extend our sincere gratitude to Tibet charity and the two community health workers of the Charity; Ms. Lhamotso and Ms. Tenzin Tsering for the sincere contribution during the whole day program of World AIDS Day. Thank You all.