Living With AIDS: Aicha, My Hero!May 15, 2008
I always thought that real heroes are those who invented complicated machines or those who came-out with genius theories. All that, was before I met Aicha. Aicha in Arabic means Living. Indeed, in her eyes we can see the flame of life that only true heroes have. In addition to her 8 children and husband, Aicha is living with an unpleasant guest everyday inside her weak body: AIDS.
With her pink traditional dress, which they call Tub in Sudan, Aicha was standing in front of 70 strangers to tell proudly her story with AIDS, during the UNDP HARPAS workshop for Independent Artists, Bloggers, and Journalists, which was held in Cairo from the 5th to the 8th May. “I didn’t commit any crime. I was operated for appendicitis, and they transferred to me blood infected with AIDS. I had to face my family, my children, and the whole society”, she said to her curious audience. In fact in many Arab countries a huge quantity of blood is still used without being well examined. Aicha was lucky enough to have an understanding husband, who supported and encouraged her to tell her story on television and in international meetings without any fear or shame, in such a conservative society full of taboos. Undeniably, “HIV/AIDS’ power is not in the Virus itself, but in the vicious circuit of fear and stigma linked to it”, as Doctor Ihaab Al Kharat from the HARPAS team has explained during the same workshop. In fact, AIDS is just like any other illness that we can live with without any risks if we take the right medicine at the right time.
Nowadays 39.5 million people worldwide are living with the Virus. In the Arab Region they are more than 460 000 people living with AIDS. Yet, I would like to question these figures given by the UNAIDS, because they are all based on government statistics. How can we imagine that a country like Syria only have 300 HIV/AIDS cases, without mentioning the whole Khalij region which doesn’t want to communicate any official figures on the issue? Another alarming figure is that only 5% of the declared AIDS cases in the region have access to treatment. Not because of luck in medicine, but because of the society taboos and of a coward suicidal discourse related to the Virus.
I was so impressed by Aicha that I decided to sit with her and have a long friendly talk. I was like a little child staring at this monument-like lady strong and confident in her 30s. She told me how her husband and she are living a normal sexual life by using condoms during their intercourses. Aicha also gave birth to a little girl, who doesn’t have the Virus, after following the right treatment that reduces the quantity of HIV in the blood during the pregnancy period. However, if science found a way to cope with the situation, the reaction of the doctors, who are supposed to be the most compassionate towards people living with AIDS, was very harsh on her. Once the medical staff learned about her case, they just put her in the quarantine and left her sinking in her blood and tears, shouting until the head of the baby came out.
When I’ve heard that story, I was so angry and disgusted at the same time. I cried fiercely and hugged Aicha. I could not describe that moment. I felt that she is a young woman just like me, and that all the stereotypes of the society disappeared. 48% of people living with AIDS in the Arab World are women, and Aicha is one of the few women who are coping with the Virus in a normal way. I feel I’ve found a hero made out of flesh and blood, who can inspire me in my daily life. For Aicha, and because I believe in life, I will go tomorrow morning to check my blood in one of the local centres, where I can get a free HIV/AIDS test. I hope you’ll do the same!
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