Last Saturday, I attended the International AIDS Memorial Day event at Hospital Sg Buloh. It is an annual event held all over the world, in memory of people with HIV who has passed away in the past year. The last time I attended such an event was back in 2008.
Hmm, I wonder if anyone noticed that the spelling for LIGHTS was wrong!
This year, the crowd was decidedly larger than 2 years ago. The event was organized by KLASS (Kuala Lumpur AIDS Support Society) and the ID team in Sg Buloh Hospital. It was a by-invitation-only closed door event. I was honoured to be invited to participate in the event.
Back in 2008, the mood was more somber and tears flowed freely as people with HIV infection shared about their experiences and as we stood in silence to remember those we have lost to the disease. This time round, the mood, to me at least, was more cheerful. The theme this time was ‘Many Lights for Human Rights’.
There were songs (by a local celebrity as well as by doctors and patients alike); there was a time of sharing where 3 brave souls with HIV being probably the only thing they have in common, stepped up to share of their experiences in life; there was poetry recited and this time we also honored 3 specially chosen people who have dedicated their lives to care for people living with HIV and AIDS (PLWHA)
My role that day, other than being an invitee, was to honour one such person: Matron Hwong Li Li who has been working as a counselor in the ID clinic in Hospital Seremban for almost a decade and have dedicated a better part of her life to the welfare of PLWHA.
I also had the opportunity to catch up with my fellow colleagues who are fighting the same war in other hospitals. I even had the privilege of meeting some people whom I have never met before. One such person was a HIV + man who has been trying for the better part of 2 years to see me in the clinic but to no avail. It was good to finally meet him and even better to know that he is doing well on HAART.
Another surprise was to meet a total stranger after the event who came up to me and asked, “Excuse me, are you Jimbo? The writer of that blog? I read your blog everyday!”.
Small world indeed.
The best and saddest part for me, as always, was the time we all stood in silence, passing a lit candle around as names of people with HIV/AIDs who have passed on flashed on the large screen ahead. I am saddened that the list does not seem to grow any shorter.
I think Dr Christopher Lee (Head of Infectious Diseases Team, Hospital Sg Buloh and widely respected as the ‘Father of HIV medicine’ in Malaysia, and a person I greatly respect and look up to) summed it up best when he gave his closing speech. He said:
“Thank you, thank you, thank you. I think we need to do this every year. Because I NEED THIS.”
I agree wholeheartedly. After a while, and after a lot of frustrations and disappointments working in the field of HIV medicine, it’s easy to lose focus and get discouraged. Events like this one helps me to regain my focus and reignite afresh the passion within to continue the work.
I left the event abruptly that day, because I had to rush elsewhere. But I left feeling touched and encouraged.
Mon, 170510 @ 0800