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I Have Been HIV Positive For A Year, Optimistically So

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It’s better knowing and dealing with it, then letting HIV get the better of you.” – On behalf of Safe Masti, a programme supported by the Elton John AIDS Foundation.

The first thing I did when I found out that I’m HIV positive was to thank the man I got the virus from. He and I had parted ways after a short but intense courtship. Two months after breaking up, he told me about his HIV positive status.

A month later, on June 13, 2016, I found out we shared the same virus.

Nothing had prepared me for this eventuality. I was shattered within. I had never thought I would be someone who could be HIV positive. I had always tried to be a good boy. I had worked very hard to overcome the abuse and self-inflicted guilt I had to suffer in younger years. It had taken three years of therapy to finally see myself worthy of self-love, and to not feel like I was “damaged goods.”  I had worked very, very hard on myself – done everything I could for self improvement and learning – and finally, after many years of work, things had started to look up for me. I felt a stronger sense of purpose and being.

My HIV status got me back to square one – the feeling of being damaged goods returned with the arrival of my blood test. I could hear my heartbeat, and could not stop my body from shivering as I sat all alone in my car right outside the path lab with the envelope containing my HIV 1 & 2 blood test. My nervousness was palpable as I fumbled with the envelope to open it. ‘REACTIVE’ was written in all caps on my report. I sat in a daze, for I don’t know how long, gathering my composure only after I sensed the wetness of my face. Some sweat, some tears – I couldn’t tell one from the other, as I wiped my face and headed home.

The first person I told about my HIV status was Gautam Yadav, a known HIV advocate, who has been a friend since I heard him speak at the first LGBT MINGLE Youth Leadership Summit in 2015. His positivity and concern for my well-being was not for my HIV status, but how I was dealing with it. My mentor, mother-figure and boss, Kiran Bir Sethi, an education maverick – revolutionist was the second person who I told. Her presence and guidance has crafted the man I am. And so, it was important that I sought direction from her at this critical time. She accepted my HIV status just as she had accepted her daughter’s lifelong diabetic condition.

As I read more about diabetes, the similarities between the two became obvious to me. You keep insulin levels in check for diabetes, and viral load in check for HIV. Two decades ago, diabetes was considered taboo – just as HIV is today. People with Type 2 diabetes had to face the kind of stigma which is now considered unjustified. Sadly, society still considers diabetes (Type 1) to be a “lifestyle” disease. Just as HIV is considered a disease that is spread by homosexuals, prostitutes and promiscuity. People need to know that HIV and diabetes are medical conditions requiring lifelong medication. Patients do not die because of diabetes or HIV, but because of complications caused by them. These complications can be kept in check through medication and regular testing.

India still has the 4th highest deaths due to HIV/AIDS related illnesses in the world (120,000 deaths according to the Global Report by UNAIDS, in 2010).

The number has remained consistent over the years, with a slight decrease in death toll in 2015.

The treatment of HIV has seen major advancements. In the past decade, antiretroviral treatment has allowed people with HIV to live long, healthy lives. Typically the treatment is expensive, and involves daily dosage of timely medication; along with quarterly or biannually blood reports – all of which needs to be meticulously recorded for posterity.

Fortunately, the Indian Government and several international agencies, like India HIV Alliance, AIDS Health Foundation, Elton John AIDS Foundation provide free antiretroviral treatment, contraceptives and testing. And so, we have no excuse, not to be tested or practice safe sex.  

As for the man I mentioned at the beginning, I thanked him for his courage of coming out to me as HIV positive. I thanked him because he was still grappling with his HIV status, and yet, had the courage to tell me that I was at risk. I thanked him because I could start my treatment immediately after finding out and keep my viral load in check before matters got worse.

I have been HIV positive for a year. I have had to make many changes in my life to accommodate the psychological and medical effects of HIV. I have had a change of job, city and lifestyle. I am married to a beautiful man with the blessings of my family. I am extremely blessed that I am surrounded by friends and family who love me for who I am. My HIV status does not change how they treat me. I continue to work passionately for education; and make meaning in my life though advocacy for LGBTQ rights and HIV/AIDS awareness. I am, like we all are, living a life worth living.

I am HIV positive, and optimistically so.

You too can live a healthy and happy life. On December 1, World AIDs Day, we took a pledge; #LetsTalk about #HIV and get tested.

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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Read more about her campaign. 

A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

Read more about the campaign here.

A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

Read more about the campaign here.

A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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