Over decades, the incessant stigmatization of certain social issues in Pakistan has only exacerbated the problem. Despite the taboos surrounding HIV/AIDS, a couple from Lahore has been raising awareness for the past 17 years.
Due to the failure of education regarding the disease, HIV/AIDS cases have only increased. But Asim Ashraf, 43, living in Lahore, and his wife Rubina, 45, are spreading awareness about HIV/AIDS.
Ashraf, who used to work in a scrap shop, was detected HIV positive in 1998 when he was planning to undertake the Hajj pilgrimage to Saudi Arabia. He has been living with the virus for the past 18 years and has two daughters who along with his wife are HIV negative.
Speaking to Anadolu Agency on World AIDS Day, which was observed on Wednesday, Rubina said marrying Ashraf, who had detected HIV, was the best decision of her life.
“I was an independent working woman and I did not want to get married ever,” she said. “But when I saw Asim working for others, I decided that I will devote my life to this man and I proposed him.”
Ashraf working with Rehnuma Family Planning – a voluntary group – as HIV/AIDS coordinator is engaged in extending counseling to HIV/AIDS infected patients. He cites his example to infuse confidence among patients and breaks the taboo around HIV/AIDS. Initially, there was a group of 15-16 people. Now they have reached a vast network of hundreds of people.
Facing physical and mental abuse
“I had to undertake a medical test, in which, I was diagnosed with HIV,” said Ashraf. “When the doctor came and told me that I am HIV/AIDS positive, I was scared like a child.”
To earn living, he had to deal with hospital waste like needles, plastic, and blood bags.
“I saw people laughing at me. I was multiple times physically and mentally tortured and people did not say good things about me behind my back,” he added.
When he got the medicine from the neighboring country India first time, he distributed it among HIV/AIDS patients. “At that time the medicine for one month was costing us almost 60,000-70,000 Pakistani rupees ($340-400),” he continued. “And one person has to take 12-13 tablets a day. We started collecting donations and imported medicine from India.”
Ashraf said that in Pakistan patients with HIV/AIDS can now get free medicines from government hospitals. He and his wife had to marry in a civil family court as Rubina’s family did not approve of the marriage. But later they accepted it, said Rubina.
“I have two daughters now and they see me giving medicine to their father every day. When the time will be right, I will explain the disease to them myself,” she said.
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