Call for Action against Discriminatory Laws and Practices 


that Stigmatise HIV+ Individuals

On Zero Discrimination Day, Human Touch Foundation called for action to change discriminatory laws and practices, which are a significant barrier to accessing health and other services, and make positive changes to ensure equality, inclusion and protection.


Human Touch held a community conversation in collaboration with Goa State AIDS Control Society discussing specific actions that individuals, civil society organisations and the government can take to change discriminatory laws and practices. The panel included the (Dr) Fr Allan Tavares, the administrator of Fr Agnel College, Pilar, Goa; Dr Shradha Mulgaonkar Patil, an obstetrician and gynaecologist and the erstwhile president of the Indian Medical Association, Mormugao; Monika S Kshatriya, a journalist and gender rights activist representing transgender activist Diana Dias from Wajood; Albertina Almeida, an advocate and human rights activist; Dr Aldina Braganza, an associate professor and head of the Department of Psychology at Carmel College; and Celina D’Costa, a volunteer at IMAX Cooperative.


In his welcome address, Dr Jose D’Sa, Project Director of GSACS, stressed on the attainment of the national plan for HIV, which speaks about the three zeros: zero new infections, zero HIV-related deaths and zero discrimination. He lay emphasis on knowledge being essential to empower people and reduce discrimination and spoke about the achievements of the GSACS. ‘We have started viral load testing in Goa and aim to get a higher viral load suppression outcome. Our mother-to-child transmission rates have also reduced compared to the last case detected in 2017. This is a big achievement for GSACS,’ said Dr D’Sa. 


Fr Allan Tavares, who touched upon the stigma and discrimination connected to HIV infection and the role of faith, stated that what is considered normal did not need to be so. He said, ‘Stereotyping happens everywhere and discrimination is a result of fear of the unknown and ignorance. How we tackle it depends on our education. We need to educate ourselves with knowledge.’ He also pointed out that society’s judgement of what is normal is not necessarily the ideal way to function.

Monika S Kshatriya, reading out Diana’s message, spoke about the many faces of transgender discrimination. She said that The Transgender Persons Bill, 2016, which was passed without any real consideration for transgender individuals, was derogatory to them. She said, ‘The law itself is discriminating.’


The medical field’s perseverance towards zero discrimination in health-care settings was stressed by Dr Shradha Mulgaonkar Patil. She said, ‘Sometimes the preoperative testing and precautions could be seen as discriminatory in certain circumstances. We live in a society that panics very fast. We always teach our students to take precautions, but we also have to now counsel them about discrimination and how to tackle it.’

 

Adv Albertina Almeida concentrated on the legal framework against HIV discrimination stating that there are laws passed but not implemented in the sphere of human rights. ‘The law states that anyone who is discriminated against can approach an ombudsman. But are there any people appointed for the post? Discrimination on HIV-related grounds has a penalty, but it is rarely initiated,’ she said.


Zero discrimination in educational settings was a topic elucidated by Dr Aldina Braganza. She spoke about the system being afraid of answering questions regarding sexual identity and orientation; and that the educational system needs to bridge the gap of what the youth want to learn and what is taught to them.

Celina D’Costa shared her personal experience about discovering her status and being ill-treated by her family. Overcoming all hurdles, she managed to lead a fulfilling life in all areas. She explained that there are different levels of discrimination faced in every sphere of life.


Moderating the discussions, Peter F Borges (Founder of Human Touch Foundation) called on the government to adopt structural interventions to prevent HIV among the most-at-risk population and combat social and cultural attitudes leading to discrimination.


Human Touch Foundation is actively working with Goa State AIDS Control Society to eliminate all forms of HIV-related stigma and discrimination against those living with HIV as well as those who are most at risk of acquiring HIV.