HIV/AIDS and Children

The Issue

 

A Life Less Ordinary

UNICEF/2012/Sri Lanka/ Rajat Madhok
© UNICEF/ 2012/ Sri Lanka/ Rajat Madhok
Princy and the Positive Women’s Network, won the Red Ribbon Award at the World AIDS Conference earlier this year. Her organization receives support from Sri Lanka’s Family Planning Association and UNAIDS.

By Rajat Madhok and Urvashi J Kumar

COLOMBO, Sri Lanka, 26 September 2012 - 53 year old Princy Mangalika has a way of looking straight at those she addresses. A demeanor that speaks volumes of her deep-rooted strength and confidence. It belies the fact that just over a decade ago she was struggling to piece together her life after her husband, unable to handle the fear of stigma on learning he was HIV positive, committed suicide. The mother of two gets visibly emotional when she recalls the night when she ran out of her burning house, clutching her daughters hard, struggling to keep them safe after her neighbours set her house afire soon after her husband’s death. He was shunned even in death and was denied a proper burial.

Shamed and ostracized, Princy, who had contracted HIV from her husband, was denied even her dignity and her world as she knew it shattered in front of her eyes. With two little girls to support, Princy turned to her mother for help. She was fortunate for the support she received from her. Today, Princy is a figure of hope for many. Running a grassroots NGO called Positive Women’s Network she and her team members, all HIV positive, work tirelessly to fight the stigma associated with HIV and AIDS and help those living with HIV get the support and care they need. 

“Had my children been HIV positive I would have taken them and jumped into the river. But they tested negative and that gave me hope. My husband was shamed even after his death. No one should ever have to live or die like that. I drew strength from that. That is when I decided to fight for those living with HIV,” she says.   Princy's Positive Women's Network now employs others affected by HIV. It also supports those who want to get tested confidentially and provides shelter to women who have been thrown out of their homes and communities for being HIV positive.

Acknowledged internationally for the impact of her work, Princy and the Positive Women’s Network, won the Red Ribbon Award at the World AIDS Conference earlier this year. Her organization receives support from Sri Lanka’s Family Planning Association and UNAIDS.  Her organization also actively supports the Think Wise Campaign, a joint initiative of UNAIDS, UNICEF and the International Cricket Council (ICC) which aims to reduce stigma and discrimination by increasing awareness around HIV.

Rallying support under the slogan “Let’s Talk”, the campaign has on board cricket stars like Kumar Sangakkara and Virender Sehwag to reach out to the masses in countries like Sri Lanka and India where cricket is the leading sport.  This year, the Think Wise campaign in Sri Lanka has teamed up with national partners to further raise awareness and provide links to vital HIV services for people wishing to find out more information. Within a few days of the launch of the joint campaign in Sri Lanka, the number of calls being received by Happy Life, a helpline run by doctors at the Family Planning Association, an NGO supported by UNAIDS, has significantly increased. The young doctors who attend to telephone calls at the center dispense not just regular counseling but also give medical advice on HIV and other sexual health issues. The dual advantage of confidentiality and a language the callers understand has meant they now receive calls from overseas and even use Skype and mobile texting to reach out to those seeking information about HIV and safe sexual behaviour.

Globally, 40% of new infections are among young people between the ages of 15 – 24 years. This means some 3000 young people per day contract the virus. In Asia and the Pacific, 95% of youth getting infected are those among particularly vulnerable groups - young men who have sex with men, young sex workers, young people who use drugs, young transgender people.

“Stigma is still one of the biggest barriers to people accessing life saving services here in Sri Lanka. We have to talk more openly about HIV and dispel the myths. This also means talking more directly about sex and sexuality,” said David Bridger, UNAIDS Country Coordinator, who is also leading Think Wise, the joint ICC, UNAIDS and UNICEF campaign against HIV/AIDS, in Sri Lanka.

Back in the Positive Women’s Network drop-in centre, Princy counsels a woman who was raped and contracted HIV through the attack. She gives the woman advice on eating habits, lifestyle changes besides explaining to her the importance of being on continuous medical treatment. Princy speaks to the woman with compassion, after all who would know better than Princy about stigma and the difficulties that a HIV positive person faces from an ignorant and at times intolerant community. Her organization now actively supports persons living with HIV, showing them how to face the world, arming them with information and assisting them in seeking medical help when needed, as they continue their battle, working towards an AIDS free world.

 

© UNICEF/ 2012/ Sri Lanka/ Rajat Madhok
Inoka Prabashini and Hasan Naseer work with Princy in the Positive womens network. They are open about their medical condition and work endlessly in trying to improve the lives of those affected by HIV

 

 

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