Tuesday, February 24, 2009

The stigma of HIV costs lives (and economic output)

I heard two shocking stories regarding HIV this week from two friends.  The first was from a Thai friend of mine who had a female Thai coworker who was HIV positive, quickly fell into sickness, was ostracized from her coworkers, didn't receive treatment (even though it is free) and died.  

The second story is from a coworker of mine who's friend is a foreigner in Thailand who didn't know why he was so sick, got sick, had no way to receive treatment, ended up in jail and is assumed to have been deported. 
I think the reason why these stories disturb me so much is that those with HIV live with such a stigma attached to them.  They are so often in denial and ashamed and treated like dirties that they don't get the treatment that they need so badly.  Average life expectancy with HIV is only 8 years without any treatment, but with optimal treatment that number balloons to over 33 years.  Even with less than optimal treatment, a person with HIV can have many good years, usually well over a decade before even falling sick.  

Beyond compassion and humanitarian reasons, HIV treatment is also a matter of economics.  Sick people are bad for the economy.  HIV infected persons do not need to be sick if they receive proper treatment.  With proper treatment they are able to carry on with their normal working lives and remain a part of the economy.  That treatment, if publicly funded costs the tax payer money, but the pay off is greater because that person continues looking after his or her family and contributing to the economy.  Without treatment, they can't work and require help from either the public purse or from private groups.  

I'm going to look into what solutions an HIV positive foreigner with no money has in this country.  All Thais can receive anti-retroviral treatment for free, but many foreigners here do not have insurance and do not earn enough to pay for these medications.  There must be some sort of charity that helps them.  

I think we really need to get people talking about HIV in polite company.  Get people to realize that it's not a death sentence or a statement on a persons morals.  From a Christian perspective, he who is without sin, you throw the stone first and judge not because if you do your father in heaven will also judge you.  I'm sure other religions have appropriate lines to insert as well.  


Anonymous said...

Agree, on all counts.

Anonymous said...

I'd like to hear more on what you think is happening now.