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'Hospital staff treat HIV patients like pariahs'
Vijay Singh in Mumbai | April 22, 2005 00:31 IST
Tuesday, April 20, 2005
Kashi (name changed) jumps off the fifth floor of J J Hospital in Mumbai and commits suicide.
Monday, April 19, 2005
Tukaram (name changed) commits suicide in similar fashion.
Kashi and Tukaram were HIV-positive and were being treated at the hospital.
In 2004 too there were two cases of HIV-positive patients committing suicide in J J hospital.
Why are they so many suicides happening? What has the hospital done to check the trend?
Rediff.com's Vijay Singh finds out.
More then 100 HIV-positive patients are being treated at J J Hospital.
Ever since the 2004 incidents, the hospital authorities have been trying hard to prevent suicides -- from arranging counselors to covering the ward with steel grilles.
But the suicides continue.
Doctors and the counselors are of the opinion that patients are driven to suicide mostly due to fear of social stigma.
Most HIV patients, who belong to the lower class, have no knowledge of HIV and consider it a social shame. In most cases, the family members also shun them.
It is when those on whom they are dependent turn their backs that the patients start thinking they are a burden, said a doctor.
A doctor, who did not want to be identified, said: "Sometimes, patients are not even able to move around the hospital for various tests because the lifts don't work. The hospital staff also treats them like untouchables. They often abuse them. This sows negative thoughts in the patients' minds."
One suicide case drives others to think along the same lines too, he said.
"Under such circumstances, patients need constant counseling," Dr Vinod Agarwal, Associate Professor of Forensic Medicine, J J hospital, said.
Regarding counseling, hospital dean P H Shnigare says: "We have pre- and post-HIV counseling centres in our hospital. We train our staff on how to deal with the patients so they don't feel isolated and depressed."
The councilors think social stigma and lack of family support are the main reasons that drive the patients to take the extreme step.
"There have been cases when family members keep patients separately in the house. They even have separate utensils for them. They are treated like untouchables. Lack of awareness leads to such behaviour," said Meera, a counselor at the hospital.
The main job of the counselors is to convince the patients they too can live a normal life if they take proper treatment.
Meera said: "Many patients think they will be shunned if the family gets to know the truth and hide the facts from them. We have to convince them to go for a test and also bring their immediate kin for counseling. Once we can get them to believe us, half the problem is solved."