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Tibetan face up to the AIDS challenge

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DHARAMSHALA, December 1: Tibetans in the exile seat of Dharamshala today joined the global call for “Getting to zero,” the theme for World AIDS Day 2011.

Leading the day-long activities as part of the World AIDS Day commemoration was Dharamshala based NGO, CHOICE HIV/AIDS Initiative.

“Getting to Zero - zero new HIV infection, zero discrimination, and zero AIDS related deaths is the theme for World’s AIDS Day 2011,” explained Phuntsok Chomphel, the project manager of CHOICE, the lone NGO in the Tibetan community dedicated towards AIDS awareness and providing support to HIV patients.

Apart from organising street theatres and talks, various materials on HIV/AIDS in Tibetan and English languages were also distributed to the general public.

Speaking to Phayul, Chomphel expressed his fear on the critical level of infection risk that the Tibetan communities in Tibet as well as in exile are exposed to.

“Right now the number of AIDS patients in the exile Tibetan community is being put at 49. However, I believe the numbers could be much higher,” Chomphel asserted.

According to a study by CHOICE, approximately 83,000 Tibetan refugees in India could be categorised as high-risk group for HIV infection due to high mobility, poverty, and lack of access to healthcare facilities.

Sharing his experiences of social stigmatisation and discrimination, a Tibetan AIDS patient Lobsang Damchoe, who has benefited from the ‘Adopt HIV/AIDS Family’ project undertaken by CHOICE, spoke to the staff members of the Central Tibetan Administration (CTA).

“I lost my job when my office came to know that I was infected with HIV/AIDS. Later, I started running a canteen at a school, and I was doing fine, taking care of my wife (who is also an AIDS patient) and my child, but again I was forced to close the canteen,” an emotional Dhamchoe recounted.

While urging the audience to give social acceptance to AIDS patient so that they can live a dignified life, Damchoe thanked CHOICE and the Health Department under CTA for helping his family and encouraging him to stand up in the society.

Launched in 2010, the project ‘Adopt HIV/AIDS Family’ is currently looking after multiple individuals and families living in the Indian subcontinent.

“We aim to connect Tibetan people infected and affected with HIV/AIDS with individuals, families or organisation who are willing to provide financial support,” Chomphel told Phayul.

“This kind of support not only ensures better treatment and sustenance but also improves their quality of life, enabling them to feel accepted in the society and giving them the confidence to be a constructive part of the community,” Chomphel added.

Now into its fourth year, CHOICE has evolved into a significant community partner in reducing the incidence of HIV infection in Tibetan refugee communities by developing and implementing comprehensive HIV programs using a broad range of media and social activism.