Eradicate Stigma and Discrimination for our Children

Every day we hear of instances of stigma and discrimination shown to HIV positive people in our society. And we generally perceive such instances of stigma and discrimination with HIV positive adult people. As a result, it shakes us with pain to learn of HIV positive children at the receiving end of stigma and discrimination.
Senti is a seven year old studying at a government primary school in Mokokchung . He is an obedient and disciplined student and keeps good grades. Therefore he was popular and well liked in his class; until the day his HIV status was known. Students started avoiding him which eventually and suddenly relegated him to the status of a pariah. Parents panicked and reacted strongly upon learning that a HIV positive child was attending the same class/school as theirs. They stopped sending their children to school.
School plays an important in helping a child maintain a normal routine and stay connected to friends. But situations like this are detrimental to the proper growth of students. Because, lack of HIV and AIDS education plays a decisive role in the overall education of a child as is apparent here. Simply put, the HIV positive child could suffer psychological damage as a result of experiencing stigma and discrimination at such a tender age. Again, the students deterred from attending school for fear of infection suffer because absence from school makes it difficult to stay up to date on school work, and to stay in contact with friends. Some students are even transferred to other schools. Such students go through a hard time adjusting to the new environment and new friends. Smarter kids adapts to the new environment soon enough. However this school change in the middle of the year unnecessarily damages the focus of most children in studies in his new school.
NMP+ received information of the prevailing conditions at the particular school mentioned above and intervened through the conduct of HIV and AIDS sensitisation on the parent/teacher day of the school. T Temsu Jamir and Yimkum Imchen, Counsellor and Outreach Worker respectively of Care DIC NMP+ sucessfully dispelled the doubts and misconceptions of the participants i.e. students, parents and teachers during the conduct of the said HIV and AIDS sensitisation programme.
However we can’t bask in the successful HIV and AIDS sensitization cum intervention at this particular school. Situations like this only underscores the fact that HIV and AIDS is a common yet regretfully still a vague term for many people. And this is just the tip of the iceberg regarding myths and misconceptions and thereby the prevalent stigma and discrimination in our society.
We can’t jeopardize our future leaders just because of lack of proper information on HIV and AIDS when we can renew our efforts a little bit regarding dissemination of HIV and AIDS information. School is where children learn and develop communication and social skills. Going to school gives children a sense of purpose and provides structure and keeps a child focused on the future. Negative attitudes and beliefs should not distract the child from focusing on studies. And to prevent such incidents of stigma and discrimination, schools could play their part by leaving aside a particular day for sensitization programmes on HIV and AIDS and invite organizations or resource persons involved in the fight against the HIV and AIDS pandemic for the conduct of such programmes. Here, school authorities should ensure that teachers and students and their parents should compulsorily attend the sensitization programmes. Such programmes will prove to be vital in the eradication of prevalent HIV and AIDS related stigma and discrimination from schools. This again will pave the way for the future free of stigma and discrimination as tomorrow’s perceptions and attitudes against the pandemic will be what children learn today.
Toshi Sangpi, President
NMP+, Mokokchung