By Choekyi Lhamo
DHARAMSHALA, Dec. 1: Tibetans in Dharamshala on Wednesday observed the international day dedicated to raising awareness of the HIV-AIDS epidemic through skits performed by beneficiaries of Kunphen rehab centre, an organization that focuses on treatment of drug abuse. The CTA Health Department along with Delek Hospital provided free tests for HIV-AIDS, diabetes and blood pressure tests at McLeod Ganj square in Dharamshala.
Over 60 people had their vitals tested and around 30 people got tested for HIV AIDS at the site, with the organizers donating free masks and condoms to the public. Local Indian traffic police, shop owners, monks and Tibetans of all age groups participated in the drive.
According to data from the Health Department, only 53 Tibetans are suffering from this deadly disease in exile. “The main worry is that people excluded from our census could pass on the fatal disease to their partners or family unbeknownst to their own contraction of HIV. Hence, regular testing becomes all the more important,” Substance Abuse and HIV Prevention Program Coordinator Tenzin Sonam told the press today.
The Kunphen centre volunteers performed a short skit at different venues in and around Dharamshala, including Yongling School, Gangkyi premises and for the Norbulingka community. The short performance debunked many myths and misunderstandings around the disease. The presentation made clear that AIDS did not spread through talking, hugging or sharing food with the diseased person, but is transmitted through exchanging infected blood, semen, vaginal fluid, or breast milk. The campaign stressed on the mental impact of isolation faced by the diseased in the community through misconceptions of HIV-AIDS.
The one-day campaign focussed primarily on the need for compassion and de-stigmatization of the people suffering from the disease, and spread awareness in the community regarding the subsistence help offered by the Health Department, including minimal monetary help of 1000 rupees per month for those suffering from AIDS. The volunteers of the outreach program led a procession from Bhagsu Nath to Dalai Lama Temple with placard messages that urged the public to educate themselves on the disease.