Uncle, Why am I like this?

7 Dec 2016

When it comes to AIDS, the disease is only half the battle

The entire hall fell silent as soon as he stepped onto the stage. The event organised under the banner of an international NGO in this 5 star restaurant’s humungous hall was a spectacle. The hall was so silent that one could hear people breathing. He stepped onto the stage, began talking and continued doing so with his every word making its way straight to people’s heart. He had recently earned a scholarship in class 8 and now he was a student of class 9. He had an exceptional command over English, Urdu, Punjabi and Siraiki His voice was dominating but his health seemed feeble with his pale color and lean figure. His parents had passed away but he always remembered them. He had no friends for they considered him an outcast. He was always alone, in the streets and even at school. He said he has AIDS. “Am I capable of doing an immoral act at such a young age? Do you really think I can maintain sexual relations with a woman at this age?” he asked. “It’s my parents’ gift to me. My mother was HIV positive so my father contacted the disease later too. I was HIV positive when I was born. I want to study and be a great man one day; a doctor who could cure AIDS so that no one ever has to face the same fate as mine. I want to educate the masses so that never again another kid has to suffer at the hands to his parents’ ignorance.” He ran away after this, I ran after him and wanted to stop him but he turned around and said only one thing, “Uncle, why am I like this?” The entire hall was silent while I stood there stunned and speechless.

Majority of the HIV people in the world have contracted this disease through sexual acts. Almost 35 million people have lost their lives owing to AIDS while 36.7 million people are living their lives with it (WHO.) The number of men and women sufferers is almost the same.

I still think as to what is this kid’s fault? In our society, it is such a taboo subject that nobody talks about its existence and preventive measures. A few NGOs have tried disseminating information about it but that’s certainly not enough. HIV is a virus that reduces a person’s immunity thereby weakening his or her immune system. The system keeps deteriorating by making the body incapable of fighting against the simplest of diseases. As a result, a benign illness, such as common flu etc., becomes chronic, at times fatal and the set of these symptoms is called AIDS.

In our society, however, AIDS is associated with illegitimate sexual relations only which aren’t true at all. It is also assumed that men contract these diseases from prostitutes which isn’t “entirely” correct either because according to a survey, a major number of HIV positive men are truck drivers. They tend to stay away from their homes and families for prolonged periods and often end up engaging in regular sex with both female and male sex workers, including ‘hijras’ or transvestites.The limited studies carried out indicate HIV infection stand at around 1 or 2 percent among long-distance truck drivers.

According to another meticulous survey, almost 77000to 160000 people in Pakistan are suffering from AIDS (UNAIDS). This, however, is not an authentic number for a number of HIV positive people are ashamed of going to the doctors. While a number of them contract the disease through injections and unsafe blood transfusions. Unfortunately, 1900 to 3900 t kids under the age of 15 in Pakistan are HIV positive; approximately 18000 have become orphans due to Aids (UNAIDS). In the absence of proper treatment, the risk of vertical transmission (transmission of disease from mother to child as an embryo, fetus, or baby during pregnancy or childbirth) of HIV is as high as 15-40%. Fortunately, antiretroviral drugs given to the mother during pregnancy or labor, and/or to the baby immediately after birth, reduce the risk of MTCT (mother to child transmission) of HIV. However, Government needs to wake up to this reality. The biggest victims of government inaction, in both treating the AIDS patients and spreading awareness about, are the innocent children who inherit the disease from their mother. They suffer at different levels. They bear the pain of the disease itself, are ostracised, lose parents to the disease, and eventually die due to lack of proper medical facilities. It is so unfortunate that people shy away from talking about these issues. Whenever the topic comes up, even the so called religious scholars stay quiet and God forbid, if somebody tries to address it, they are labeled as perverts and what not. Our society is Islamic agreed, but brushing our harsh realities under the carpet has become a norm. It is about time that we equip our masses with HIV and hepatitis awareness. Moreover, HIV tests before marriage need to be made mandatory through legislation so that, in future, an innocent child does not render us speechless and heart broken by asking , “ Uncle, Why am I like this?” ever again.

Published in “Pakistan Today” on 07 December 2016.

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