SHILLONG, May 26: Meghalaya has lost as many as 500 people in the last decade to the dreaded AIDS and related illnesses as was revealed during a programme to observe the International AIDS candle light memorial organized by the Meghalaya State Network of Positive People (MNSP+) supported by Meghalaya AIDS Control Society (MACS) here in the city on Saturday.
According to officials, a total of 493 people affected with HIV/AIDS have died from 2007 till date.
Out of 3261 people living with HIV/AIDS, only around 1800 are registered with the MNSP+. There are 162 children living with HIV/AIDS in the state, they said.
The event not only serves as a symbolic reminder of all friends who have passed away, but also of the multifaceted social, emotional, physical, economical, and political struggles that all those living with HIV go through on a daily basis.
Further, the candlelight memorial also demonstrates the continued need for the visibility, leadership and commitment of communities and individuals to take action and achieve a better future for people living with HIV. There is no better time to act than now.
In her testimony during the occasion, a mother of three children shared the bitter experiences she faced after she and one of her children were diagnosed with the disease, to the extent of her family disowning her.
“Many times I feel like giving up and I decided not to take medicine anymore because my family was never there for me when I need them the most,” she said.
The woman said that her eight year old child had to go out and work to take care of her and the family. “My children love me and that is the reason why I decided to live for them,” she said while expressing her gratefulness to the support extended by the MSNP+.
Speaking on the occasion, Congress veteran leader and former Assembly Speaker Charles Pyngrope said that incidence of AIDS in the state is rising and it remains among the most pressing and urgent of global challenges with lives and livelihood at stake on a daily basis.
Pyngrope, who is also the MLA representing Nongthymmai constituency said that he was moved by the words spoken by the woman in her testimony and offered to help her with Rs 10,000.
When the people applauded this announcement, Pyngrope said, “No, I should not be appreciated for that as I feel that is a duty of each and every citizen and each and every person among us to spread the word that we need to help these people. Then only can we say that our society is growing in love and in passion otherwise we are all sick, we all have some disease. My appeal to all, let us put our hands together.”
On the other hand, Pyngrope said that the real reason that this epidemic has not been beaten boils down to one simple fact – “We value men more than women, straight love more than gay love, the rich more than the poor and adults more than adolescents.”
Stating that AIDS does not discriminate and it has no biological preference, it doesn’t single out the vulnerable, the oppressed or the abused, he said, “We single out the vulnerable, the oppressed and we single out the abused. Therefore we ignore them, we let them suffer and sometimes we let them die.”
He further stated that the key vitals to ending AIDS is mobilising and empowering the next generation to push for social change.
“If we support our young people, if we give them the confidence, the space to speak out against injustice and if we take the time to listen to and empower them, this will end this epidemic,” he said.
Lauding the MSNP+ for its contribution towards such people, Pyngrope said, “This is who we should be supporting and this is where the MACS must play a much bigger role in supporting these people. We cannot lose our sense of urgency because despite all the progress made it is still not enough.”
According to him, AIDS virus has a stigma and people have been afraid to talk about.
Meanwhile, the Congress leader also said that he would discuss the possibility of doing something for the MSNP+ with the Chief Minister, Conrad K Sangma.
He recalled that when he was the Speaker of the Assembly, he had formed a Forum on HIV/AIDS where all the MLAs are members and were supposed to contribute a lakh each from their MLA funds.
“I had constituted a fund that would be gathered from the MLA funds of the all the 60 MLAs. I wrote to the then chief minister to deduct one lakh per term from every MLA for the MACS which in turn will help the MSNP,” he said.