Different people, different minds
Is it possible for any good to come out of the HIV and AIDS epidemic? We hear of people suffering throughout the world and of the uphill efforts being made by governments to combat the disease. HIV and AIDS is a global scourge, but its tragedy is most heartfelt within families and communities.
Irina and Dema are a young married couple; both are HIV positive. Both made mistakes that lead to becoming infected. But they have not abandoned one another and are not consumed with self-pity, although circumstances might permit one to think they could be so. They live in squalid conditions, from hand-to-mouth, in a part of town that has suffered more than most from the post-independence transition. Life is an everyday challenge.
Dema contracted the disease from Irina, who contracted it from a lifestyle she has since left behind. That Dema is HIV positive is shocking. He purposefully put himself in danger, despite Irina's warnings. When asked why, he responded,
"Different people, different minds. I wanted to be supportive. If Irina has to fight this thing, we will do it together. How could I know her pain, if I don't have it?"
His sincerity and devotion are inspiring, but his logic is cause for grave concern and evidence that UNICEF must travel a long road in promoting healthy lifestyles. Dema and Irina have not shared with their neighbours what has happened, fearful of the reaction and possible stigmatization. They seek solace in the company of friends who are also HIV positive. In fact, Dema spoke hopefully of forming an association of such people.
In May 2004, the group of friends participated in a UNICEF and UNAIDS-sponsored consultative meeting with especially vulnerable young people. The meeting was an ice breaker more than anything else. The stigma attached to people living with AIDS is so severe that many are reluctant to reveal their thoughts and feelings. It was an excellent way for UNICEF and its counterpart, the HIV/AIDS Prevention Centre, to discover potential activists.
Dema and Irina could well become positive role models if the energy of their words can be translated into concrete actions. Mistakes of the past are not to be forgotten, but it is the love and commitment they have for one another, in the face of HIV, that need to be shared and built upon.
Adapted from "Tajikistan", a publication of the UNICEF Tajikistan country office.