HIV-positives still face stigma
Rahim (not his real name) had been suffering from tooth decay and he needed to undergo root canal treatment without any delay. But he failed to receive any treatment even in a month despite his desperate attempts to be cured.
He visited five hospitals in the city but all of them turned him away. The reason: Rahim, 34, is an HIV-positive.
Failing to endure unbearable tooth pain, he finally decided not to reveal his HIV status while seeking treatment and it worked.
"I had to adopt this unfair means, otherwise any hospitals or clinics would not treat me," said Rahim, now working with an NGO.
"I went to Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujib Medical University, Suhrawardi Hospital and three other private clinics at Mirpur. But they turned me away after I informed them of my HIV status. So, I decided to hide my HIV status. Finally, I could receive root canal treatment at a dental clinic in the city," he said, recalling that it was August 2007.
As a migrant worker, Rahim had been in Saudi Arabia for five and a half years. After he was diagnosed with HIV during a medical check-up in 2004, the Saudi government sent him back.
"After my return to the country what hurt me most was that everybody tried to avoid me as if talking to me would cause them to contract HIV. Even the hospitals and clinics deprived me of the right to seek treatment," he said.
Like Rahim, there are an estimated 1495 people who are living with HIV/AIDS in the country. They continue to experience stigmatisation in society and are deprived of their basic rights despite massive awareness campaign, treatment and other initiatives taken by the government and non-government organisations.
"Hiding one's HIV status is quite alarming and it could cause massive spread of the infection, as the doctors are yet to follow universal precaution completely. If they don't know whether the patient is an HIV-positive, their carelessness can increase the risk of transmission of HIV," said Prof Nazrul Islam, virologist and former vice chancellor of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujib Medical University (BSMMU).
Habiba Akhter, executive director of Ashar Alo Society, said only the Infectious Diseases Hospital (IDH) has been providing treatment to HIV-positives, but their entry to the other public and private healthcare centers is almost prohibited as even the doctors and nurses stigmatise them.
The situation hasn't changed much since 1989, when the first HIV-positive person was identified in the country.
According to a study, some 16.8 percent of people living with HIV/AIDS decided not to go to any hospitals to seek treatment.
The deprivation and stigmatisation was so intense that 21 percent of HIV-positives even thought of committing suicide once or several times, it said.
Ashar Alo Society, Family Planning Association of Bangladesh, James P Grant School of Public Health of BRAC University and UNAIDS conducted the study on 238 HIV-positive people in Dhaka, Chittagong, Sylhet and Khulna.