Tuesday, June 06, 2006

HIV, AIDS, Stigma, and Discrimination ...

Would that we Pakistanis could learn the maxim:

“Hate the sin, not the sinner”

The stigma and discrimination against HIV/AIDS isn’t going to end until we follow this maxim, but it will take a revolution of sorts if we want people to think the way this maxim wants us to think. This revolution will have to begin with you. But you got to realize that HIV/AIDS isn’t the only stigma in Pakistan. All sorts of things become a stigma in my beloved country, for example:
· You are stigmatized if you are black in color (I am talking about color here, not race).
· You are stigmatized if you are poor
· You are stigmatized if you belong to a lesser caste
· You are stigmatized if you suffer from a mental disorder (schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, depression, etc)
· You are stigmatized if you are “low” in “status”
· You are stigmatized if you are infertile (this holds true for both men and women, but especially for women)
· You are stigmatized if you are ugly

I speak from personal experience in a public health setting. Many people would try to hide a family member’s mental illness or the fact that their child is an adopted one and not their biological child. Most poor people will take loan and spend at least a hundred thousand rupees on their daughter’s wedding only to save them from being stigmatized. If you are an infertile woman, then the people around you will give you less respect. If you belong to a lesser caste, you would wish you could lie about it. If your dad were a sweeper at the hospital, you would work your way out of this by telling people that your father is “employed” at the hospital.

Historically speaking, this stigmatism that has pervaded all strata of Pakistani society was (and still is) the mark of Hindu society. Our one-and-a-half-millennium long affair with the Hindu culture gave us this gift of stigmatization. Now it is time for us to throw it into the dustbin.

Pakistani society is a sexually corrupt society (yes, it is) sitting at the brink of a general HIV epidemic. While we are expecting the numbers of HIV-infected persons to rise in the coming years, I am not foreseeing any amount of reduction in stigma and discrimination against HIV/AIDS until you and I start caring for the HIV-infected person. Till then, the people living with HIV/AIDS will have to live in Hell.

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