Shillong, Dec 1: Awareness and society’s support can ensure equal rights to people living with HIV (PLHIV) infection, asserted medical and legal experts at an event organised in the city on Thursday on the occasion of World AIDS Day.
The theme for this year was ‘equalise’ and the speakers at the event focused on the road map for bettering access to constitutional rights for PLHIVs.
Dr B. Decruse, project director for Meghalaya AIDS Control Society, said it has to be a concerted effort to end the prevailing inequality in society.
Meghalaya has the third-highest number of HIV cases in the country, and according to the HIV Surveillance Sentinal, 2017, 1.03% of all pregnant women tested HIV+.
The chief judicial magistrate at the District Legal Services Authority, Nathalie Dkhar, spoke about the Right to Equality in the Constitution and that people living with HIV infection should not be denied that.
The Right to Equality (Articles 14-18) entitles one to equality before law; prohibition of discrimination; equality of opportunity in public employment; abolition of untouchability; and the abolition of titles.
“As the citizens of India, we are entitled to constitutional rights, and as humans, we are entitled to human rights. Most people living with the HIV virus face discrimination, which is beside the struggles they have to undergo owing to the infection. We have an act — the HIV and AIDS (Prevention and Control) Act, 2017 — to protect the rights of PLHIVs. Under this, they can approach the court if their rights are infringed,” Dkhar said.
Discrimination, denial of housing and healthcare facilities and disclosing identity are some of the violations which PLHIVs can fight against, Dkhar mentioned.
Zonuntluanga Sangma, who was diagnosed with HIV infection in December 2019 and is now a part of Meghalaya State Network of Positive People (MSNP+), shared his experience of and fight against the viral infection. “It was a black day when I came to know about the infection. I started my medication in January 2020 and then the lockdown started… but I told myself that all is well,” said the 26-year-old MSNP+ member.
Sampath Kumar, principal secretary at the Health and Family Welfare Department, stressed the need for awareness in society. “Right to equality is very important and the state has worked towards it to make policies to create support systems… There is a general awareness to work in tandem to address the issue. If we can work like that, then we can address any issue,” he said, adding that the state government has an ombudsman system where grievances can be lodged.
A music video, Ka Rangli, was launched on the occasion. The music and lyrics were by Syvana Sunn.
Later, lawyer Rebina Subba spoke about the plight of the LGBTQ+ members and their rights to equality.