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Living Positively: Jahnabi’s Story Of Triumph Over HIV

Jahnabi Goswami is an HIV activist from Assam. She is the founder of Assam Network of Positive People (ANP+) that provides support to people living with HIV

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लिविंग पॉजिटिवली: जाह्नबी की HIV पर जीत की कहानी

New Delhi: She was told she has three months to live. Twenty-five years later, she is not just still alive but kicking as well! Jahnabi Goswami was diagnosed with AIDS a year after her marriage. She was 18. Her husband, succumbed to the disease the same year. Jahnabi, however, made sure she lived to tell the story. ‘I have a daily routine like anyone else. The only difference is a few tablets and a controlled diet,’ says Jahnabi, an HIV activist.

Eldest of the four siblings, Jahnabi was married off early, at the age of 17 into a family known to hers. She had just completed her class 10. The decision to get her married was her uncle’s. After her father passed away, the family faced difficulties in putting food on the table.

Also Read: AIDS, HIV Are Not Transmitted Just By Having Sex: Dr Jugal Kishore

After one month of marriage, her husband’s health started deteriorating. Jahnabi was expecting a child. She took him to the Guwahati Medical College, where she got to know about her husband’s HIV+ status. A year later, Jahnabi was also diagnosed with AIDS. She added,

The doctors told me that I had only three months to live. It scared me. But I received constant antiretroviral therapy (ART) before the infection could advance. I not only survived those months, but the next 25 years and I continue to do so.

After exactly 13 days of her husband’s death, she was thrown out of the house along with her one-year-old child, Kasturi, who too died at the age of two having contracted the disease from her parents. She said,

My life was shattered. I returned home and my mother became my biggest support.

Her mother gave her confidence to talk about her condition, so that other people living with HIV could seek help and live a longer life. Jahnabi’s mother also pushed her to pursue further studies. She went on to finish school.

In the year 2000, Jahnabi made her HIV-positive status public and became the first person in her state to do so.

Also Read: India’s National AIDS Control Program Acclaimed As Global Model: US Ambassador Garcetti

Formation of Assam Network of Positive People

With the objective to provide support to all people living with HIV/AIDS in Assam, Jahnabi founded a Community Based Organisation (CBO) – Assam Network of Positive People (ANP+). It had just five members initially. The organisation was formed with the help of Indian Network for People Living with HIV.

The organisation runs multiple awareness programmes about HIV/AIDS, and educates people about various aspects of the disease. It also provides counselling and financial support to people living with HIV/AIDS. The organisation has grown to have more than 8,000 members in different districts of Assam. Jahnabi said that numerous national and international funding agencies, media outlets, and individuals have financially supported the organisation.

Amid all the work, Jahnabi completed her education, securing a Bachelor’s Degree in Political Science.

Establishing Kasturi Children Care Home

In 2012, Jahnabi established an orphanage in the name of her daughter, ‘Kasturi Children Care Home’, in Suraj Nagar, Six Mile Guwahati, for orphaned children infected by HIV. The orphanage is funded by the Assam State AIDS Control Society (ASACS).

Besides children living with HIV, ANP+ also supports youth who have victims of substance abuse and people with Hepatitis C.

Causes Behind The High Rates Of HIV Cases In The Northeast Region

The major cause of high rates of HIV cases in the Northeast states is substance abuse, she said,

This is because the region is close to the ‘golden triangle’ of heroin production, which includes Myanmar, Thailand, and Laos.

Besides drugs, unsafe sex is also a big reason behind high HIV cases in the region.

Assam Government’s Initiatives

The 44-year-old said the Assam government has introduced several initiatives for the HIV, right from the establishment of the AIDS Control Programme in 1992,to programmes including Project Sunrise (an initiative to prevent AIDS among drug users in the region), free blood from blood banks and transportation to ART centres for HIV+ people, ex gratia of up to Rs 1 lakh to the HIV+ victim’s spouse, and establishing AHANA Project (works towards strengthening of NACO implemented programme: Prevention of Parent to Child Transmission of HIV), among others.

Also Read: India’s National AIDS Control Program Acclaimed As Global Model: US Ambassador Garcetti

Role of Sex Education

Jahnabi Goswami laid special emphasis on sex education in reducing the spread of HIV in the region. She has met several HIV+ children, who have no history of blood transfusion and neither of the parents are HIV+. She said,

It is likely that these children contracted the disease due to sexual abuse.

Several such cases of sexual abuse pushed Jahnabi to emphasise the importance of a comprehensive sex education in schools. She said,

More than one-third of new cases of HIV in India happen in the age group of 15-24 years. The education system is not adequately equipped when it comes to providing sex education. There is a lack of proper conversation around sex and sexuality in the schools. Time and again, it’s been proven that an honest dialogue helps prevent unwanted pregnancy, reduces the risks of STIs and STD’s and takes away some of the misconceptions attached to sex education.

In 2008, UNAIDS shared Jahnabi’s story on World AIDS Day. Apart from founding ANP+, Jahnabi is also the first woman president of Indian Network for People living with HIV.

Also Read: Why Stigma Remains The Biggest Challenge In The Fight Against HIV

NDTV – Dettol have been working towards a clean and healthy India since 2014 via the Banega Swachh India initiative, which in its Season 10 is helmed by Campaign Ambassador Ayushmann Khurrana. The campaign aims to highlight the inter-dependency of humans and the environment, and of humans on one another with the focus on One Health, One Planet, One Future – Leaving No One Behind. It stresses on the need to take care of, and consider, everyone’s health in India – especially vulnerable communities – the LGBTQ populationindigenous people, India’s different tribes, ethnic and linguistic minorities, people with disabilities, migrants, geographically remote populations, gender and sexual minorities. In a world post COVID-19 pandemic, the need for WASH (WaterSanitation and Hygiene) is reaffirmed as handwashing is one of the ways to prevent Coronavirus infection and other diseases. The campaign will continue to raise awareness on the same along with focussing on the importance of nutrition and healthcare for women and children, fight malnutrition, mental well-being, self-care, science and health, adolescent health & gender awareness. Along with the health of people, the campaign has realised the need to also take care of the health of the eco-system. Our environment is fragile due to human activity, which is not only over-exploiting available resources, but also generating immense pollution as a result of using and extracting those resources. The imbalance has also led to immense biodiversity loss that has caused one of the biggest threats to human survival – climate change. It has now been described as a “code red for humanity.” The campaign will continue to cover issues like air pollutionwaste managementplastic banmanual scavenging and sanitation workers and menstrual hygiene. Banega Swasth India will also be taking forward the dream of Swasth Bharat, the campaign feels that only a Swachh or clean India where toilets are used and open defecation free (ODF) status achieved as part of the Swachh Bharat Abhiyan launched by Prime Minister Narendra Modi in 2014, can eradicate diseases like diahorrea and the country can become a Swasth or healthy India.

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