When he found out he was HIV positive three years ago, Tanveer* assumed the worst – he thought he would die soon.
After working in Saudi Arabia as a tailor for two years, Tanveer was deported in 2008 due to his illegal immigrant status. A few months later, he applied for a formal work visa, and after going through the requisite medical tests, learnt about his HIV status.
“When the lab personnel told me about my HIV positive status, I thought I had AIDS,” Tanveer said. “I could not tell anyone because I was worried I would be shunned.”
For the next one month, Tanveer plunged into depression and quit working.
“All I could think about was what I’d done wrong – and I knew it had to do with the unprotected sex I had during my time in Saudi Arabia,” he says.
Although he was married a few years before moving abroad, Tanveer said he was lured into hiring prostitutes by his friends. “We were all far away from home, and I used to hire a prostitute every week,” he says, adding that he did not use any protection all this while.
When all seemed hopeless, Tanveer received a call from an HIV-positive awareness group, who learnt about his case from the lab he had been tested at.
“I was immediately assigned a psychologist who counseled me and said there was nothing to worry about if I took the recommended medicine,” Tanveer says.
Once his misconceptions were removed, Tanveer found the courage to tell his family.
“We can live like any normal person, despite being HIV-positive. People like me just need psychological support more than anything else,’ he says. It has not been equally easy with friends and neighbors though.
“People in my neighborhood and my friends do not know this, because I know they believe that patients like us are dangerous and contagious,” he says.
Government awareness campaigns on AIDS in the past have worsened people’s perception,’ Tanveer says, recalling television advertisements that called AIDS untreatable.
Dr Rizwan Baig of Family Planning Association Pakistan, who has been working as programme manager for AIDS in Pakistan for the last 6 years, says “Pakistan’s AIDS control programme has only 5,500 registered people while the United Nations places the estimated number of cases at 97,500”.
He stressed that the government should create awareness amongst sex workers, drug users, truck drivers, and youth.
*Names have been changed to protect privacy
Published in The Express Tribune, December 1st, 2011.
Correction: An earlier version of this article incorrectly mentioned Family Planning Association Pakistan as Family Association Pakistan. The error is regretted.