This year, at the International AIDS conference held in Washington DC, Delhi Network of Positive People (DNP+) and its founder Loon Gangte were awarded the Red Ribbon Award for Human Rights and Advocacy.
In 1999 when Gangte was diagnosed with HIV, he along with a few others set up DNP+ as a support group. He says, “DNP+ was formed by a small group of drug users while I was undergoing my rehabilitation at Sahara Residential Care and Rehabilitation in New Delhi. Our initial motive was just to share our feelings with fellow HIV+ persons, as those days, the stigma and discrimination was at its peak. It was a support group for PLHIV (People Living with HIV/AIDS) which, till today, is the back bone of DNP+,” he explains.
Since formally registering DNP+ as a community based organisation in the year 2000, Gangte has been working towards making treatment for PLHIV more accessible. His team supports anti-retroviral therapy (ART) clinics in spreading awareness about treatment, and on the advice of doctors in government hospitals they also visit homes of ART defaulter clients and bring them to the clinic.
While Gangte appreciates the Red Ribbon Award, he is frank in admitting that it’s too early to determine its impact on their work since receiving it in July. He says, “However I hope and wish that in the days to come, winning the award will help highlight the issues we work on. Fourteen hundred organisations from 120 countries applied for the award, so it feels good to be selected among the 10 winners.
I also feel honoured that just before receiving the award, Aung San Suu Kyi addressed the gathering via live a video conference from Myanmar,” he says, over the phone. Gangte has attended four International AIDS Conferences but says, “The most boring was at Washington DC this year. It was the dullest, as the most HIV vulnerable population — drug user groups and sex worker groups — were absent due to US travel restrictions.”
Gangte, who has also been diagnosed with Hepatitis C, says that this virus will be a priority agenda for DNP+ in the next year. Right now DNP+ is facing both obstacles and triumphs. Gangte says, “The US, European Union and several big pharmaceutical companies who consistently and in various forms try to block India’s Generic ARV production are our biggest hurdles.
But our latest triumph was last month when, through the intervention of DNP+, two surgeries were conducted at Delhi Hospital after sending a legal notice to the hospital as they had initially denied surgery.”
Perhaps DNP+ is Gangte’s way of passing on the support he received. He reminisces, “When I was diagnosed and when we formed DNP+ I was at Sahara Rehab. Our director Mr Neville Selhore gave me a tight hug and whispered in my ear, “Loon, I am with you no matter what.” That is the simplest and most powerful emotional support I’ve received. Neville Selhore is the most humble and unique person I have come across.” He adds that he’s never been hospitalised or spent money on medicine except on the occasional seasonal cold or cough.
It’s not all work for Gangte, though. The 45 year-old takes time out to play with his two ‘cute-naughty’ sons (both are HIV negative) and occasionally goes to the gym or plays soccer — something that he used to do often before his hectic travels. On weekends, “I take my kids to the park and sometimes go for a concert or a party. Sunday is reserved for my God and I mostly go to Church. In the midst of all this I log onto Facebook,” he says, chuckling.