Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Disclosure Of The Identities of The 4 Persons With HIV/AIDS

On the evening of 26th November, 2011, I just happened to be passing by the TV in my bed room – to go to the toilet. I noticed that the TV was on idle mode. On an impulse, I pushed the “ON” button on the remote and punched in the numbers “11” without intending to actually watch whatever BBS was broadcasting at that time - it was an impulsive act. A half-hearted sideways glance on the screen showed that the BBS was showing a live panel discussion anchored but Dawa. The three panelists consisted of two medical doctors and one High Court judge. Curious to know what was being discussed, I retraced my steps to take a closer look at the TV.

I realized that I was towards the fag-end of the program. I was about to shut off the TV when I heard Dawa say that the BBS TV would be hosting a live show on the 1st of December, when he will showcase four persons who have been tested HIV/AIDS positive.

Consternation stuck me! WHATTTTTTTTTT??????

As the enormity of the tragedy of what they were planning began to sink into me, my mind was a tumultuous mess. It was so numbed that it couldn’t register much of what was being said. But I have hazy memories of what Dawa was saying and what the doctors were saying and what the judge was saying.

Dawa the anchor justified that the parading of the 4 HIV/AIDS positive cases would be in the larger interest of the people of Bhutan.

One of the doctors on the panel actually claimed that HIV is no longer the scourge that we believe it is – he claimed that it is as common as cancer or any other chronic disease. The other doctor who is supposed to be the head of some HIV/AIDS related organization claimed that the 4 persons have volunteered to come on the show – live! and that it is a first of its kind in the world.

The High Court judge rattled off some mumbo jumbo about the Constitution providing adequate protection against abuse of the individual right and the individual dignity of every Bhutanese individual.

All of the three panelists and Dawa the Anchor made it sound like it was all hunky dory and went on to assure us that there is a need for this cause célèbre.

I am amazed at the naivety of it all. Doctors and judges endorsing this 15 minutes of fame seem to ignore the devastating and life altering consequences – not so much to the 4 persons willing to appear live on TV, but hundreds of others – who will be affected by this misguided show of bravado and a misplaced sense of righteousness.

There are certain ethical and moral and legal issues that these people who have cajoled the 4 persons to come on live on the BBS TV, need to understand.

For the doctors: What do your professional code of ethics and conduct say – about encouraging your terminally ill patients with socially unacceptable disease, to reveal their identities on the national TV? Can your behavior be considered ethical – in advising and encouraging them to undertake a step that leaves them wide open to unfathomable reactions and, even ostracization from friends, relatives, co-workers and the rest of the society?

To the Judge: In quoting the Constitution and reminding us of the protection it accords us from abuse of individual rights, are you saying that there are legal provisions in the law that will protect these 4 persons (and their numerous family, spouses, children, siblings) from discrimination by individuals and society? Are there laws in place which could be applied, should they suffer ostracization as a result of public declaration of their illness?

To BBS TV: As a public service broadcaster, do you believe that you are doing the society at large a service by broadcasting a program that may well subject a huge number of people to discrimination, acts of intolerance and prejudice? Are you prepared to be an accessory to the ensuing disruption of life and happiness of a large number of people that the broadcast of the program may cause? Have you considered that these 4 HIV/AIDS positive persons may be willing but what of the others associated with them? Have you considered that you stand to jeopardize the lives and happiness of others associated with these 4 persons – who haven’t given their consent to the public disclosure of their conditions and who, either because they are ignorant or because their condition is still a secret, live a life of relative ordinariness?

To the 4 HIV/AIDS positive persons: What exactly do you hope to achieve by going public with your sickness? What will you tell the people that they do not already know about the consequences of contacting HIV/AIDS? Have you considered the consequences, once the 30 minutes glare is over?

Please remember that you do not exist in isolation. You are a part of the human society. You have parents; you have wives, children, friends, employers, employees, co-workers, landlords, tenants and sex partners. One way or the other, they identify with you – they are intrinsically linked to you and what you do will impact them - irreversibly.

Do you have their concurrence to draw them into something that they may not be willing to be drawn into? If not, who gave you the right to jeopardize their lives and happiness, and anonymity? Do you realize that their lives may already be affected as a result of your illness? Are you repentant about the fact that your spouses, your children and others may already be going through misery and unhappiness – because of you? How responsible are you being – in wanting to aggravate the situation further – by declaring to the world that you are a HIV/AIDS carrier?

Please remember that you are not alone in this. Lots of others who love you and care for you and who have stood by you all this while will be affected by your action - the outcome of which is as yet unfathomable.

Please remember that your children may lose friends in school – no one may want to sit next to them. In the vegetable market, your spouse may stand out like an oddity – a bull in a Chinese shop. You may get thrown out of your flat. You may have had sex with others who still are unaware of your dreaded disease – once you come out in the open, they will know. Imagine their misery and their anguish. Imagine how many lives you stand to ruin and bring to a stand still.

No amount of education has been able to squash the misconceptions surrounding HIV/AIDS. It is still looked upon as a disease that is abhorable and highly contagious.

In every part of the world, without exception, discrimination is looked upon as something that is undesirable. Governments and societies around the world legislate laws that are designed to fight discrimination. And yet, there is no society in the world that is free of discrimination. Bhutan is no different. Therefore, the contention that these four people and their kith and kin will not be discriminated against is something I am not willing to accept. Our proven records show otherwise.

In conclusion, I appeal to the management and the Anchor of BBS TV to withdraw the broadcasting of the program on 1st December where they will present the 4 persons with HIV/AIDS. Even if they insist on going ahead with it, I hope they will be reasonable enough to seek the consent and concurrence of the other people who stand to be affected by the broadcast.


  1. The type of reaction I had when I first met an HIV+ person, which was an instant one, and from the stories that I have heard about their own family members disowning them, I am also of the view if the BBS thing is a good idea at all.
    I have also met numerous people with addiction problems disowned and thrown out of the house and I wonder if Dawa have interacted with such people and analyzed the bigger repercussions that would ensue later.
    Just My Opinion..Ofcourse with all my limited outlook I may be wrong..

  2. Thank you for sharing your views. I too believe that there is no need for these four people to confess to the media not because am conservative by nature, but because we do not have the strong social mechanism to protect these people from discrimination. It will be more unfortunate if these four people come from impoverished backgrounds.

    Opening up to the media about HIV infection is indeed a very, very significant step. Am wondering if these four people are aware of the deep impacts that their confession is going to have on their families, relationships, work, etc.. Were these four people pressurized into coming out in the open ? Did BBS discuss with these four people about the consequences of disclosing their situation or at least make them aware of it? I seriously think that you should get this post published in one or more of our dailies with the hope that it will help the rest of the infected people to make an informed decision if not too late to stop these four from going on air. Anon.

  3. The decission taken by the 4 brothers & Sisters is not definatly an easy one and i am sure they must have gone through several such question that we are asking. Yet, they decided to come out publicly, wanted to help themsleves by taking that risk and break that social stigma.
    I think if society jointly could help them and educate the people, it should be possible. Yes, definatly there would be some reservations from section of society but the responsibility lies with people who knows the fact about the disease and make public aware that, they deserve the same life like us.

    But If the story reporeted in BBS is correct, I think it is very unfortunate that Army Officers and Administration discrimanated the army personnel and his wife and finally had to resign from the service. It is infact a serious concern and needs thorough prob and bring responsible into task.

    Hope, if we start today and Soceity comes together, I think there is a light at the end of tunnel.

  4. Well, I am not surprised by what and why they are coming in BBS LIVE TV. But it is shocking how the four Hiv/Aids victim is ready to face the social challenge against them.

    Through this media conference, it is somehow testing the individual and the social reaction towards the disease. Are they providing sympathy to the affected or are the people keeping the affected person close by pushing them away.

    As always, a brain awakening post sir.

  5. Thank you for writing this. This was exactly what I felt like when I first heard about the programme. Like you, I see no possible positive outcome from this. But I am not wise enough to know all ends, so perhaps there is something positive that I am somehow blind to. But I fear for those four, and their family. It is one thing to not keep your HIV status secret- from family, friends, even acquaintances. Some people do that. But declaring this to total strangers all over the country is another thing all together. Everywhere this person goes, everyone knows and there will be discrimination, no matter how much we get angry about such discrimination. If these people can hold their heads high and be unbothered by the reaction of the people- which can be subtle yet painful- towards them and their family, then good. But I seriously wonder if they will be able to take it. I pray this turns out harmless.

  6. Dear All,

    Thanks for your comments. This will be the last time in a while I will be able to log in. I start my trek to Gonzola in the next 5 minutes - thereafter there is no mobile network and thus I will not be able to respond nor read all your comments - untill about 2 weeks.

    Some one from USA wrote that in a small society like Bhutan, the merit of people going on live is doubtful. Because we are such a small and closed society, the persons and their relatives and freinds and co-workers are visible. In societies where the polulation goes in the millions, people may not be bothered and wont recognize them even if they come on live TV.

    My bigger concern still is: how can a number of people encourage these 4 to come on live? How can they remain unmindful of the fact that others related, and as yet not known, be exposed to the public glare?

    By the time the 4 persons say sorry, and the people connected with the Show say sorry, it would be so late.