Dozens of HIV-positive women joined thousands of other activists at rallies to mark World AIDS Day on Thursday in northeast India, a regional flashpoint for the virus. With 5.13 million cases, India ranks second only to South Africa in terms of the number of people infected with HIV, the virus that causes AIDS.
"I marched through the town with more than 70 HIV positive women like me before joining hundreds of people from every walk of life at a meeting to mark World AIDS Day," Jahnabi Goswami, 28, told The Associated Press from Golaghat, in eastern Assam state.
"I'm happy many women have paid heed to our call and have openly admitted to their HIV-positive status. Men with the disease need to follow suit," Goswami said.
In 2003, Goswami became the first person in northeastern India to publicly declare her HIV positive status. Goswami caught the disease from her husband, who has since died, and she has since worked tirelessly to spread awareness about AIDS.
According to government sanctioned figures, more than 100,000 HIV-positive people live in India's northeast.
Two northeastern states, Manipur and Nagaland, are listed among India's six "high prevalence states" by the National AIDS Control Organisation, a federal agency engaged in fighting AIDS in the country.
After the rally in Golaghat, some 280 kilometers (175 miles) east of the state capital Gauhati, HIV positive women discussed HIV and AIDS with people not infected by the disease. In Gauhati, lawmakers and doctors joined thousands of activists in pledging to combat the disease.
"Neither the government nor NGOs (non-governmental organizations) campaigning against AIDS can alone stop the disease. We in northeast India need a sort of mass revolution to halt the spread," Syed Iftikhar Ahmed, a doctor and leading anti-AIDS campaigner, said after the Gauhati rally, reports the AP. I.L.