AIDS Activist Describes Living With HIV

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Rami Al Harithi.jpgRIYADH, 6 December 2006 — The pale young man suddenly got up from his chair, walked to the stage, and began his presentation.

“I stand before you today as perhaps the longest living person infected with AIDS in Saudi Arabia,” said the 30-year-old Makkawi at an AIDS symposium organized yesterday by the National Society for Human Rights at the King Faisal Specialist Hospital and Research Center here.

“My name is Rami ibn Faisal Al-Harithi Al-Shareef. I was infected with HIV when I was six years old when my mom took me to get circumcised,” he said.

Al-Harithi said his journey with the disease has been one of hope and misery. “Parents used to tell their children to stay away from me,” he said. “Nobody used to play with me. And even when I would be present with other family members eating they would ask me to leave the room thinking that I would contaminate the food if I dipped my hands in it. I was abandoned by those who were the closest to me.”

He mentioned how his mother used to cry when she used to take him to hospital as a child because the disease was visibly weakening him.

“I will never forget the way she used to look at me,” he told the audience. “Her looks killed me. She told me, ‘Son, I cried with joy when I brought you into this world. And I cry for you now knowing that one day you will leave us.’”

When Al-Harithi got older and became an intermediate student, he realized what the four-letter disease meant and what one day it would bring. “I contemplated suicide many times, telling myself that there was no reason to live anymore,” he said.

His episodes with government hospitals and doctors who used to treat him like an “insect” are many.

“A doctor who learned about my disease in a public hospital told me, ‘Get out now! You have AIDS. We have no place for you.’ His colleague who was standing next to him looked down at me as if I were a pest,” he said.

He said that even doctors, who are supposed to give him hope and act as human beings, put him down and said he would die soon. “One doctor used to tell me, ‘All you can do is pray.’”

Another hospital in Makkah refused to take him in, saying that orders from the Ministry of Health only specified certain government hospitals to treat AIDS.

He recalled a certain episode when he finally found admittance in a government hospital and was in a critical condition suffering from severe internal bleeding. He stayed in that hospital for three months.

“The doctor told my Dad: ‘Your son has used up all the blood we have in the hospital. Either you find him some donor or he will be kicked out. If I knew his case was like this I would not have accepted him in the first place.’”

In recent years, the Kingdom seems to have been opening up to the problem of AIDS. It has disseminated statistics on the number of reported AIDS cases — 10,120 since the first case was reported in 1984 — and offers free medical care for Saudis that are HIV positive. Expatriates, who are in the Kingdom illegally and who make up the largest segment of AIDS cases, however, are often provided some treatment before being deported. (Legal foreign residents are tested for AIDS before they are allowed to enter the Kingdom.)

Al-Harithi has become Saudi Arabia’s most vocal and publicized HIV-positive AIDS activist, not only because he has lived so long with the disease, but also because of how he contracted it. As the victim of a dirty blood transfusion, Al-Harithi is free of the social stigma associated with AIDS patients who have contracted the virus through intravenous drug abuse or sexual contact; he is a socially acceptable AIDS activist.

Yet, regardless of how he contracted the infection, Al-Harithi has made an effort in promoting preventative measures for more conventional ways of contracting the virus, by advocating the use of condoms for people who choose not to abstain from unsafe sexual contact.

The Ministry of Health is also urging people to adhere to noble Islamic principles, sexual abstinence before marriage, and fidelity within marriage. Despite all these efforts, MOH estimates show that 78 percent of all AIDS cases are being contracted through unsafe sex.

Al-Harithi has been quick to point out that abstinence from risky sexual contact is the most secure preventative measure, both physically and morally.

“If we were to say ‘Use condoms’ to everybody, it is like giving them carte blanche to go out and have sex,” Al-Harithi told a news agency recently. “I will tell them, ‘You should abstain from sex. But if you travel and cannot hold yourself, there is something called a condom that you should use.’”

Al-Harithi says that “Islam is a religion of good treatment,” as narrated in a Hadith. A Muslim could pray and fast and perform Haj, but without treating people nicely, he would never be a true Muslim, he said.

He believes that he is alive today only because of the emotional support given to him by his parents. “They are my angels walking on Earth,” he said.

Al-Harithi said that AIDS will one day overcome his body, but it would never take away his spirit. “I will continue to fight this disease and reach out to others infected as long as I live. One day there will be a cure to this disease, like the plague, but I will be gone. But I want you all to know that when that day comes and I am gone, my heart and spirit will remain with you.”

Bandar Al-Hajjar, president of the National Society for Human Rights, said in his opening speech at the symposium that he has heard of many cases of people being kicked out of their jobs or refused education because they were infected with HIV.

“Even though there is no law in the Kingdom that forbids these patients from living their lives with decency, there is also no law that guarantees their rights and we hope a law would be issued in that manner,” he said.

“Patients are not aware that they have rights that extend beyond health care to the right to have an education and land a job anywhere.”

source - Arab News 

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This page contains a single entry by ID Admin published on December 9, 2006 11:26 PM.

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