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Princey Mangalika: "My neighbours burned my house because they thought I had HIV"

Princey Mangalika is director of the Positive Women's Network in Sri Lanka, an NGO working to assist women and families living with HIV
Princey Mangalika has come a long way since 2001 (David Swanson/IRIN)

There are few positive stories of people living with HIV out of Sri Lanka, but Princey Mangalika's is an exception.



Since learning she was HIV positive in 2001, she has made overcoming stigma associated with HIV a personal crusade, heading the Positive Women Network, one of a handful of NGOs working to support an estimated 3,000 people living with HIV in the country.



"Before my husband died of AIDS in July 2001, I had never heard of AIDS, much less HIV. Even the word stigma meant nothing to me. My husband had been working in Germany for six years and I knew little of such things. After all, I was a stay-at-home mother with two young girls.



"That all changed, however, when he became ill and the doctors began asking me lots of questions - difficult questions to which I simply didn't have the answers.



"They insisted I be tested as well, but I declined and returned to our village to care for my husband.



"But upon my return, I soon realized everything had changed. Once my neighbours learned of my husband's condition, they demanded that we leave. They told us we were all 'infected'; a risk to their families.



"Even the local shop refused to sell things to us, while others demanded that we take our children out of school, lest their own children became infected.



"Fearful of what might happen next, my husband sent me and my two daughters to my family's village.



"However, shortly after my departure my husband fell into a deep depression; he was found four days later outside a Buddhist temple after taking a lethal dose of poison.



"The doctors were unable to save him and when I tried to bury him in my husband's village, again my neighbours refused, forcing me to bury him in Colombo instead - with strict instructions by doctors that the grave be at least 9ft [2.7m] deep.



"After I returned to our village, I had hoped that things might improve, but instead I faced hostility. Again, people I had known for years looked and behaved differently towards me. They were afraid. I could see it in their eyes, but I didn't understand why. For days on end, they would shout at me or place death threats under our door - demanding that we leave. They even threw stones at me, but still I refused.



"Then one night I awoke screaming and realized that the house had been set ablaze. My neighbours burned my house because they thought I had HIV.



"Shortly afterwards I was tested and learned the truth."



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This article was produced by IRIN News while it was part of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Please send queries on copyright or liability to the UN. For more information: https://shop.un.org/rights-permissions

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