The past week has been a nightmare for those here who are HIV-positive.
Since it was revealed that US citizen Mikhy Farrera Brochez had leaked the personal information of some 14,200 people who are on Singapore’s HIV registry, those who have HIV have expressed fear that they would be outed against their will to loved ones, friends and even their employers.
HIV is no longer the “death sentence” it used to be with today’s medical advancements, and it also cannot be spread through social contact like kissing and touching.
However, the stigma and misinformation surrounding it has remained such that many opt to keep their conditions a secret for fear of being shunned or discriminated against.
Their fears are not unfounded, as those who are open about having HIV have spoken about getting isolated from their social circles.
Amid this time of uncertainty and worry within the community, the mother of a person living with HIV (PLHIV) has gone public with her own story of acceptance and love.
Diana Goh is the mother of Avin Tan, a manager for advocacy and partnerships at Action for AIDS. Tan is one of only a handful of individuals in Singapore who are publicly open about being HIV-positive.
In a post published on her Facebook profile earlier this week, Goh offered a seldom-seen perspective of a loved one of someone with HIV. A check with Tan revealed that the essay was an edited transcript from an interview his mother did last year that was not published.
“(Avin) chose not to tell me, afraid that I would be hurt, or that I would not be able to accept him. Then he had to fight this battle by himself for 3 years. In 2012, he finally broke the news to me. Out of expectations, I was so relieved. Despite hearing bad news. In a way – he chose to trust me; to tell me that he has HIV. Parents are the most important people to help and support their children; to help them lead better lives, and get back on track. So we don’t want them to feel alone and ashamed. Everybody wants to be accepted for what they are.”
Her support also gave him the strength to become an outspoken advocate.
“I strongly believe that Avin was happier and most relieved after being accepted by family. He became stronger in mind; and in 2014, he became the face of the disease in Singapore – it was in one of the local papers! Helping more people to accept and understand what PLHIV go through – will help PLHIV to have the courage to stand up.”
As someone who has stood by her son, and watched him continue to thrive since his HIV diagnosis, Goh knows just how important the support from a loved one can be to someone who is HIV-positive.
“Acceptance – to accept rather than resist. Accepting what has happened will help people be happier and feel more at peace, rather than fighting to change what is out of our control. This will help us to maintain inner peace and happiness. Acceptance saves lives.”
Speaking to The Pride, Tan says that employers, family and friends of those who live with HIV are more accepting than ever, although he believes that people also continue to face stigma and discrimination.
“While I consider myself incredibly lucky for the level of acceptance that I have received, I continue to hear stories of wrongful termination, or of people being made to work out of a different area, losing social networks or being disowned by their families.”
As such, his mother decided to publicly share their family’s experience, as Tan explains: “The interview (from which the essay was developed) was never published but we felt like Singapore needed some words of encouragement during this trying time and decided to share it.”
“Some affected individuals are worried that they may lose their family, and she wanted to encourage other parents and friends to accept people living for HIV for who they are.
“That it isn’t a crime nor does it change who they are.”