Jeevan Sangharsha: A ray of hope3 min read
Udupi: She travels 50 km everyday from Halady, a naxalite prone area in Kundapura district to her workplace in Udupi and has a family. But what sets 41-year old Veena Shetty apart? Being HIV positive for the past ten years, she strongly believes that talking about it will help reduce the stigma of Acquired Immuno Deficiency Syndrome (AIDS) upon society.
“I was informed about HIV at my husband’s last stage of the disease; within the next 10 months he died. I got myself tested in a government hospital and realised even I am HIV positive. I was completely broken. I faced a lot of stigma. My relatives treated me like a specimen and maintained distance. The only good thing about my life then was that I had the support of my family. They were the ones who took complete care of me and my children. They gave me the necessary moral and mental support required,” narrates Shetty.
She founded ‘Jeevana Sangharsha’ (Life Struggle), a Non-Governmental Organisation (NGO) comprising of people living with HIV/AIDS. Since its inception in 2003, the NGO has been successful in creating awareness about the stigma revolving around AIDS and its preventive measures.
“My family’s support helped me a lot to bend my negative attitude and build a positive outlook. When I went to the Integrated Counselling and Testing Centre (ICTC) for treatment and saw other HIV/AIDS patients; that gradually changed my mentality as well. The patients at the centre had no home; they had no support from their families. I questioned myself that after so many perils when it does not affect them, then why should it affect me,” said Shetty.
The NGO has grown from the initial 12 people to a network of 1800 people, with 220 children, ranging from the age of 5-25 years of age. Jeevan Sangharsha has managed to create awareness across 146 gram panchayats in Udupi, Karkala and Kundapura.
Four years earlier, a Drop In Centre (DIC) Project by National Aids Control Organisation (NACO) and Karnataka State Aids Prevention Society was started. The project provides counselling to patients and their families, medical plus nutritional services, psycho social support, educational services, and has also undertaken various prevention programmes to create awareness among individuals.
“The biggest problem we face is that individuals are either not ready to reveal their status or they are not ready to accept that they have HIV/AIDS. This is because they are extremely scared of the discrimination by society. It is only when they see people like their own selves suffering that they decide to open up,’’ said Sudhindra, a male counsellor working with Jeevan Sangharsha.
The organisation is strongly determined to change the mentality of individuals suffering from HIV/AIDS. Jeevana Sangharsha in association with the District AIDS Prevention Control Unit (DAPCO) has provided 265 bus pass facilities to poor individuals who cannot fund their bus fares to the nearest ICTC. Also, 659 members have been provided with ration cards under the Antyodaya Scheme.
Supritha, a field worker whose job is to get patients to the centre said, “It is very difficult to get individuals here. When I go on field programmes, no one knows the status of the affected individual. So we have to tell or make up something else and bring the patient to the centre.”
Veena Shetty’s belief that not the disease, but negative thinking associated with AIDS was what killed her husband pushed her to eradicate the stigma associated with HIV/AIDS. She has wholeheartedly dedicated herself to rekindle the will to live in many affected patients.
Sub-edited by Natasha Mendon