In Pakistan, where talking about HIV/AIDS is considered taboo, a couple is spreading awareness about the deadly disease for over the past 17 years.
Asim Ashraf, 43, living in Lahore, the capital of the province of Punjab, and his wife Rubina, 45, are spreading awareness about this disease.
Ashraf, living with the virus for the past 18 years, has two daughters who along with his wife are HIV negative.
Speaking to Anadolu Agency on the World AIDS Day, which is being 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. But when I saw Asim working for others, I decided that I will devote my life to this man and I proposed him,” she said.
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.
At the beginning of their awareness-raising activities, there was a group of 15-16 people but now they have reached a vast network of hundreds of people.
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.
“I had to undertake a medical test, in which, I was diagnosed with HIV. When the doctor came and told me that I am HIV/ AIDS positive, I was scared like a child,” he said.
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,” said Ashraf.
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). And one person has to take 12-13 tablets a day. We started collecting donations and imported medicine from India,” he said.
According to official data, 28.2 million people around the world who are living with HIV/AIDS are receiving ART (antiretroviral therapy).
Ashraf said that in Pakistan patients with HIV/AIDS can now get free medicines from government hospitals.
Ashraf and his wife had to marry in a civil family court as Rubina’s family did not approve the marriage. But later they have 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.
Pakistan is the second-largest country in South Asia in terms of the HIV epidemic, according to the National AIDS Program. UNAIDS also reported that around 200,000 adults and children are living with HIV in Pakistan.