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August 24, 2009 | Health

HIV/AIDS couple start new life

HIV/AIDS couple start new life

DARHOON MENHWAR

HYDERABAD SINDH, PAKISTAN – For the first time in Pakistan a couple with HIV/AIDS have married and begun a new life together to enjoy whatever time is left to them.

Rozina Naz, 31, a mother of four, was infected with HIV/AIDS by her former husband, a drug addict, now dead. Her new husband, 32-year-old Mohammad Iqbal, acquired HIV (Human Immunovirus) through drug use – he, too, was an addict.

The wedding is being jointly financed by NGOs, the Sindh province AIDS Control Programme and other civil society members.

“I'm feeling proud,” said Rozina. “Dear God, thank you so much for bringing us together as a couple.”

Iqbal left his home a year ago after clashing with family members over his drug addiction, and slept on the streets for some months. Then friends took him to a community organisation that works to support treatment for people living with HIV/AIDS.

“Because I had HIV/AIDS I never expected that God would make me a groom,” he said, “but now I am a responsible member of society.”

Rozina's past is not much different from Iqbal's. After her first husband died, Rozina's in-laws kept her four children and asked her to leave the home. “I went to my parents' home, but they also didn't react well when they came to know about this disease,” she said.

The couple do not plan to have children. They have decided to rent a house and want to take back Rozina's four children. "I miss my kids,” she said. “I go to see them on and off, but my in-laws are not ready to hand them over to me because I am suffering from HIV/AIDS, and they fear I might infect the kids."

Rozina and Iqbal believe their love and support for each other will keep them healthy longer – and also help to reduce discrimination against people living with HIV/AIDS, according to Mariam, a social worker who is seeking to raise public awareness of sexual health and rights.

Says Rozina: “If doctors advise us to, then we may have to plan for children but being both infected with HIV/AIDS we don't want to pass it on to any of our newcomers.”

Dr Farooq Soomro who works with drug addicts, is concerned over the marriage. “The father doesn't count much, but if the mother is infected by HIV/AIDS then there is more than a 50 per cent chance it will be transferred to her children,” he said.

Medical experts estimate that the couple, who are receiving anti-retroviral treatment, might live for another ten years. Dr Farooq Soomro says this is not certain but depends upon how much damage has been done to the immune system.

The couple say they don't want to “hassle” about medical science and statistics as all life is a gift from God.

In Pakistan (population: about 170 million) between 90,000 and 100, 0000 people are living with HIV. Most were infected throough injecting drugs. Neighbouring Afghanistan is the world's biggest opium producer, and the drug is easily smuggled into Pakistan.

Efforts to increase awareness about HIV among the general population are hampered by low literacy and cultural influences. More than 70 percent of women over 20 are illiterate. Pakistan has been under dictatorships for half of its 60 years of independence from Britain. The result is weak institutions and a fragile democracy in which the needs of the masses are often ignored.

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