HIV: embrace not disgrace

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This article was exclusively written for The European Sting by Mr. Aafaq Amjad, a medical student from Allama Iqbal Medical College, Lahore, Pakistan. He is affiliated with the International Federation of Medical Students Associations (IFMSA), cordial partner of The Sting. The opinions expressed in this piece belong strictly to the writer and do not necessarily reflect IFMSA’s view on the topic, nor The European Sting’s one.

I have added this little introductory portion to give the reader a concept regarding WHAT is HIV/AIDS. Normally HIV and AIDS are confused with each other but these are two different terms. HIV (Human Immunodeficiency Virus) is a virus that attacks the body’s immune system. If HIV is not treated, it can lead to AIDS (Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome). So, HIV is the cause and AIDS is the resulting condition. Latest figures showed that by the mid-2000s, 102,000 individuals were detected HIV Positive in Pakistan. Here I have written the story of a “PURELY FICTIONAL CHARACTER” named Aarib Ahmed. He is the only son of a middle-classed family. The story is written in First person.

I…, I was quite young, maybe 12, when I started using drugs. I had friends who smoked cigarettes often and, you know, when you have such company, you can’t resist… So, one day my friend offered me a cigarette and, along with the others, I smoked and smoked a lot. As time passed, I started using opium, alcohol and finally heroin. By this time, I was 18. We were poor, me and my friends, we managed to buy drugs but we couldn’t buy enough syringes (used for intravenous drug infusion) so, we often used common syringes.

When I was 20, I started having fever, chills and rash. I visited my nearest Attai-Doctor, he diagnosed me as having a simple cold. He Said, “Aarib all you need is a good night sleep”. But my condition gradually became more severe. I also started having night sweats, muscles aches, fatigue and swollen lymph nodes. I visited a number of different Attai-Doctors but couldn’t find a proper treatment, neither was my disease diagnosed. One of them suggested that I have my blood test. I visited my nearest government hospital that was approximately 30KM away. The Day was Tuesday and the date, 22 October 2001. I still remember that day “crystal clear” because it changed my whole life.

I was quickly moved to a separate room. The Doctor came in, holding my reports, and stood 4-5 feet away from me (Discrimination straight away), and said, “Aarib you are HIV-POSITIVE” … a little silence….and then I asked, “What?” …because I didn’t have the slightest idea about what HIV was… and he said, “HIV…AIDS”. The first word that came in my mind after hearing this was “DEATH” because I knew that AIDS was associated with death and was incurable (common stereotypes). But…but, I knew that AIDS was transmitted by UNSAFE SEX… I gave the doctor all my history… he pointed out that the use of “COMMON SYRINGES” was the cause.

It has been four days and frankly speaking the whole village knows that I am suffering from HIV all thanks to two of my friends who accompanied me to hospital and were informed about my disease by the doctor and the staff. But I told my parents about the disease myself and about how I got it and also that I was a drug abuser because I thought I didn’t have enough time left… So, I did what seemed right. SOCIAL ISOLATION not only from the society but also from my friends whom I considered dear and also from my cousins, Uncles, Aunts……was the first thing I felt. I, you can say, became an amusement for my village. I often heard people laughing and making comments on me whenever I used to pass by… “Hey, he is Aarib…the one I told you about…the one with HIV” … “He must have had some kind of relationship and now he is facing the music.” No one bothered to have a handshake with me. The shopkeepers refused to give me service. I couldn’t eat or drink with my friends. Wherever I went I only heard abuses.

Back at home I isolated myself in a separate room because I didn’t want to transmit the virus to my parents…although my parents opposed…whenever I visited my cousins’ home I was served in a separate room in separate pots. Also, the cousin with whom I was supposed to marry broke the engagement because she believed that HIV patients can transfer the disease if they had physical contact which is another common stereotype.

All these events drove me insane. I often had suicidal thoughts. The drugs I was taking to control HIV were having a bad impact on my memory and also causing eye weakness. For me this was THE END.

One day my father came and said, “Aarib there is an NGO, I informed them about your condition, they are having a session regarding HIV awareness. Why don’t you go and check in”? First, I hesitated but when my father insisted, I decided to go. To my surprise I found there were a lot of HIV patients including young boys, men and women.

The session was very informative. There were a few things that got stuck in my head… “HIV patients should avoid using drugs” “An HIV patient can marry as long as he doesn’t develop AIDS and the virus is still in its inactive form”.

You know I still smoked and smoked heavily but that night, after my visit to NGO, I decided that this was the time… a time to change myself…a time to give up using drugs… for betterment…for the betterment of my family. THAT DAY I SAID NO TO DRUGS. I mentally accepted my condition.

I visited the NGO quite often and eventually became a part of it. I meet different HIV patients from all over Pakistan. They share their story with me and I share mine with them. Offer them a proper counselling so that they don’t go through the same phase…the one I went through. I have now dedicated my whole life helping other HIV patients. I collect money and also donate from my own pocket to help those who can’t afford HIV treatment.

LOVE…it’s not physical…its emotional…its behavioral…involves care, affection, and trust. I met a girl there, back at my NGO, who had a life story similar to mine. We talked…came to know each other more…Began liking each other. She was not like the rest…she was different…She was beautiful both physically and mentally. Her facial features were extraordinary. She knew I was suffering from HIV but stillwe were in love. I told my parents and to make the long story short we got married.

I have three kids, two boys and a daughter. My wife, yes, she is fine. My family is HIV NEGATIVE. I have HIV, but you can say, it’s still in its inactive form so it can’t be transmitted or maybe it’s a blessing of God. We have our Blood test after every three months to keep a check and balance.

I have everything that a normal person dream of. I can’t thank God enough. Joining the NGO, my wife, my children, my parents gave my life a purpose. I felt a sense of importance. Because everyone in my village was unaware so I tried my best to spread awareness among them. My efforts bore fruit, the attitude of people…their way of thinking towards HIV/AIDS changed. Those who didn’t bother to talk started talking to me. I don’t face social isolation anymore. I am now well respected in the neighborhood.

In the end I would like to say that it’s not the disease that kills a person it’s the way society treats him. Hate the disease, not the person. Help is available, you are not alone. All you need is proper counselling.

About the author

I am Aafaq Amjad from Allama Iqbal Medical College,Lahore,Pakistan,currently studying MBBS 2nd year.I am a member of IFMSA.I am the assistant Director SCORE at IFMSA-AIMC-LC.I am also a member of HSE-AIMC and SYNCH Pakistan.I am also a volunteer at VFAHT Pakistan.

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