The social stigma concerns of HIV/AIDS4 min read
Manipal: The discrimination of patients suffering from Acquired Immuno Deficiency Syndrome (AIDS) has been a stigma upon society in India. Whether it is being shunned by the community or an erosion of personal rights; the impact of the stigmatic discrimination is such that even the Personal Care Providers (PCPs) of the disease have faced the ugly brunt of it.
A Personal Care Provider (PCP) from Hassan, who wishes to remain anonymous, has faced the bitter reality of discrimination. “The Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV)/AIDS field has always interested me taking into account my love for social work. When I left the Medical College in Bagalkot I was previously working in, to join the Freedom Foundation (an organisation working for HIV/AIDS infected individuals); my ex – colleagues started suspecting me of having HIV. They even feared drinking water from my hands. The discrimination was not visible in their talks, but their actions,” he said.
He was rejected as a donor even though his friend’s sister was in dire need of a rare blood type. “They were initially reluctant to take my blood because I worked with HIV patients, but during the donation tests I was tested negative and the blood was accepted,” he added. On enquiring who ‘they’ referred to, he remained mum.
Sharing her personal experiences with TMJ, Sheeja P. P., Associate Professor in St John’s College of Nursing, Bangalore said, “I was working in a HIV centre. My family found it very difficult to accept it. Occasionally they would ask if I had taken a bath after visiting the centre. Moreover, my friends questioned me a lot about my work. Sometimes it was embarrassing.”
One of the most common and biggest threats that a nurse is exposed to is a needle prick injury. Statistics show that every year a nurse gets at least two needle prick injuries. This could happen when disposing off needles after a transfusion process. To avoid this, nurses are required to wear protective gloves. In case of a needle prick, a 28-day course of medicines and therapy called Post Exposure Profile Access (PEPA) is done.
“I faced a needle prick injury a few years back and during that time we did not have PEPA. There was little or no knowledge which we had about it,” said Prabhath M. Kalkura, Project Coordinator and Chief Trainer of the Global Funds to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria (GFATM) Project on HIV/AIDS and Antiretroviral Therapy (ART) from Manipal College of Nursing (MCON). “We were not acquainted with the protocol which was to be followed, once a nurse faced a needle prick injury. It was the most difficult stretch of my life, till the time I was tested negative. There was always a fear running inside my head, eagerly waiting for the window period to cross. This is what inspired me to work for the spreading of awareness about this issue,” he added.
The other occupational hazards faced by the nurses everyday includes splashing of bodily fluids like blood of the infected patient into their mouth or eyes. It is also their duty to ensure that any cracks or wounds on their skin are properly covered before treatment of any patient.
The secondary hazards include diseases through airborne pathogens. Tuberculosis (TB), extra pulmonary tuberculosis, respiratory tract infections are among the few of the infections that nurses are exposed to. A report submitted by All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS), New Delhi and Department of Emergency Medicine, Sri Venkateswara Institute of Medical Sciences, Tirupati shows, in developing countries, TB is the most common life-threatening Opportunistic Infection (OI) in HIV/AIDS patients with about 25 to 65 per cent patients having tuberculosis of any organ, which the nurses are directly exposed to.
Today even though the scenario is improving and more nurses are educated, there is still a fear of social discrimination lurking in their minds. “The offer of a good salary package and the assurance that they won’t be staying with HIV/AIDS patients in the ART centres does not encourage young nurses to come forward and work at these centres. They are still scared of the mind-set and judgements made by society and therefore succumb to it,” explains Sheeja.
Despite the occupational hazards that these nurses face in their day-to-day work and the dangers of contracting life threatening diseases, they still work with HIV/AIDS stricken individuals. The only entity they fear is discrimination by society.
Sub-edited by Natasha Mendon