200 get ready to lead awareness campaign
Three years ago, Mukesh Gautam was a dejected man. Having tested positive for the dreaded HIV, he lived a life of stigma, in isolation and with the fear of death. Today, the 6-foot-tall 43-year-old former truck driver is the backbone of the states recently launched mobile AIDS awareness campaign.
As the mobile Integrated Counselling and Testing Centre (ICTC) van parks itself in colleges, market places or any other locality and Mukesh takes the microphone to speak about HIV-AIDS, its prevention, anti-retro viral treatment and CD4 (cluster of differentiation) counts, most people mistake him for a doctor.
Just as I announce to the crowd that I am HIV positive, I have noticed the crowds around the van swell, he says. The first-of-its-kind effort in the state to involve HIV-positive people to spread awareness about the disease among the public and high-risk groups has been a hit. It has resulted in a record 230 people coming for voluntary tests within the first 20 days, of which a few tested positive.
I have now found the best purpose for my life, says a beaming Mukesh, who also earns a good remuneration from his new job.
Inspired by the success of the experiment with the ICTC van, the state is all set to launch a brigade of 200 other HIV-positive people who registered themselves at the two drop-in centres at Paonta in Sirmour district and Barmana (Beri) in Bilaspur to become volunteers and take the awareness message to the remotest villages of the state.