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From self-acceptance to empowering others living with HIV
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From self-acceptance to empowering others living with HIV

Jyoti Dhawale, who contracted the virus in 2005 because of medical negligence, has devoted herself to speaking out against the stigma of HIV/AIDs
yoti Dhawale, who became HIV-positive because of medical negligence, focuses on maintaining a healthy diet and regular full-body checkups to stay healthy
Jyoti Dhawale is a Global Ambassador for The Well Project, a non-profit organization that supports women and girls living with HIV. (Photo by Shiva Kumar/ Happiest Health)

The 48-year-old Jyoti Dhawale has faced several challenges in life, including three forced abortions, during one of which she contracted HIV owing to medical negligence. Today, she is a Global Ambassador for The Well Project, a non-profit organization that supports women and girls living with HIV. Instead of being bogged down by her experiences, she focused on speaking out against the stigma of HIV/AIDs and has gone on to become an advocate for those living with the condition.

She works to educate doctors, corporate employees, and other organizations on how to effectively treat those living with the disease.

Dhawale organizes awareness sessions and trains doctors on eliminating stigma and discrimination in society. “People need to learn how to live together and accept everyone harmoniously,” she said.


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Braving all odds

At the age of three, Dhawale was diagnosed with bilateral sensorineural hearing loss and while she can hear louder sounds, she lip-reads to follow conversations. Moreover, she has a speech defect that makes it difficult for her to pronounce some alphabets, such as the letter ‘C’.

Despite being speech and hearing impaired from her childhood days, Dhawale was happy when she got married. However, she had to undergo multiple abortions. While pregnant with her fourth child in 2005, she tested HIV-positive. According to Dhawale, the infection was a result of medical negligence during abortion. Subsequently, she was subjected to domestic violence and even marital sexual abuse. When her child was just six months old, she and her husband separated. Recalling the mental and emotional exhaustion, she says, “As I experienced more stress and frustration, the stigma of being HIV-positive started getting to me more and more.” 

 

Staying healthy and fit

Dhawale has faced a lot of challenges in her life and is still struggling with health issues that lead to extensive exhaustion. Despite this, she is committed to maintaining a healthy lifestyle. She says that her health is vital to her, so she makes sure to get enough sleep and practice mindfulness to manage stress. By limiting unhealthy food, she keeps track of her weight. She avoids junk food and greasy meals and opts for a healthy and balanced diet. Moreover, she limits her screen time and keeps her phone at bay while not working. Dhawale also visits her doctor every six months for a full-body checkup regularly. 

The need for awareness

It is important to be tested and informed about HIV/AIDS on a regular basis, as it can be passed on through sexual contact, injection or needle use, blood transfusion, bodily fluid exchange and from mother to child. People may not always have symptoms, as was the case with Dhawale. However, even asymptomatic people need to come to terms with their emotional and psychological state. 

It took Dhawale four long years to accept that she was HIV-positive and work on empowering people living with the same condition across the world. In public forums, and she actively shares her experience living with the condition and creates awareness daily. She also said that society needs to work harder to help people with HIV/AIDS overcome stigma and discrimination, as it cannot be spread by coughing, touching or even sharing a drink of water. 

Dhawale still struggles with health issues at times but always falls back on a time-tested approach. “Every time I stumble and fall, I get back up and keep going,” she says. 

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