Stigmatised

An HIV positive patient from Bangladesh tells Ahmed Shatil Alam about his illness and how he hides it from even his closest relatives

On a day of October 2003, Hasib (name has been changed), a migrant worker from a South-Eastern district of Bangladesh, had returned to his workplace at a food processing company in Saudi Arabia. ‘I had gone to the factory for my night shift duty,’ he says.

zMA8xCuHasib has been working at that factory for more than seven years as a machine operator. As part of a routine procedure, a team of doctors from the company came to him to collect his blood and urine samples before he started his work. ‘It was a routine procedure for the company that a free-medical checkup was conducted for workers from the South Asian nations,’ he says.

Five days later, Hasib went to his factory. He still had no idea that a medical test result had already reached his factory authority and it was about to change his entire life. ‘Upon reaching the gates of the factory, the security guards asked me to return the following morning. I did as I was told,’ says Hasib.

Around morning of the following day, the security officials took Hasib to the company’s Pakistani general manager’s office room. The general manager asked everyone to leave before initiating his conversation with Hasib, who was tensed. ‘Without any introductions, the general manager told me that my medical test results are not satisfactory and I am likely to be deported home,’ recalls Hasib.

Upon inquiring, Hasib was told that he has been found to be HIV positive. ‘I was confused at the moment and could not believe what he was saying,’ says Hasib.

The manager sent him to a nearby diagnostic centre to crosscheck the medical test results. Along with two other officials, he went to the diagnostic centre and dropped his blood sample again. The second result confirmed that Hasib is HIV positive.

‘At the time, I was not frightened. I was simply tensed about my family and about their survival in case I am fired from my job and deported. I also dreaded how they will react about the disease,’ says Hasib.

Two days later, the company arranged a flight to Bangladesh for Hasib. Although, he was tensed about how he will share the dreaded news with his wife, father, mother and eight siblings, his friends made it easy for him by calling his home and informing about the disease. They also assured his family that if proper care is taken of Hasib and if he takes his medicines properly then he will be fine for many years, as they were told by the Saudi doctors.

Hasib confesses to New Age Xtra that while he was in Saudi Arabia, he sometimes went to an illegal brothel-that was run by female Indonesian sex workers. ‘I went there for some time to fulfill my desires…as I was not in touch with my wife for many days…’ he says. Unfortunately, two months before the first medical test-conducted by his company, he became physically involved with one of those girls without protection. ‘I think that is how I got the disease,’ he says with tearful eyes.

HIV-ADIS-DPA few days after returning to Bangladesh, he tested twice to verify the disease. Unfortunately the result was the same. Hasib, along with his wife, went to a local NGO- that has been dealing with the HIV positive patients in Bangladesh to get information about how to deal with this deadly disease. From them, he came to know that HIV positive does not mean that he has contracted AIDS.

‘From them, I learnt that once a person is infected with HIV, the virus begins to attack and destroy the CD4 cells of the person’s immune system. HIV uses the machinery of the CD4 cells to multiply and spread throughout the body,’ he says.

CD4 cells (often called T-cells or T-helper cells) are a type of white blood cells that play a major role in protecting your body from infection. They send signals to activate your body’s immune response when they detect ‘intruders,’ like viruses or bacteria.

The CD4 count of an uninfected adult who is generally in good health ranges from 500 cells/cubic millimeter (mm3) to 1,600 cells/mm3. For a HIV positive patient it could be less than 500 cells/mm3. A very low CD4 count (less than 200 cells/mm3) is one of the ways to determine whether a person living with HIV has progressed to stage 3 infection or AIDS.

At that time, Hasib’s CD4 count was around 400 cells/mm3-meant he was not affected with AIDS. After knowing that, Hasib began to think about his life again. Since then he has been on an antibiotic for twice a day. The tablet has been supplied to him along with several hundred other HIV positive patients by Bangladesh Government free of cost under its AIDS/HIV prevention project.

Hasib also shares that in recent years, the funding for HIV/AIDS patients in Bangladesh has been reduced significantly for which the poor patients like him cannot take the nutritional foods- but for a HIV positive patient nutritional foods are a must to maintain a high CD4 count.

For the last few years, he is serving at a local NGO that works with social issues and HIV positive patients. The 46-years-old is father to three daughters. Among them, the youngest was born after he was diagnosed with HIV positive. Fortunately she is not HIV positive.

Hasib says that although the rate of infection has been reduced in Bangladesh, the issue is still considered a taboo in the society. ‘I cannot share about my disease with my relatives, even to my close relatives…as I fear that they will abandon my family and me,’ he says.

As a HIV positive patient, he urged Bangladesh government to set up some counseling booths at the airports- through which experts can provide information to migrant workers who earn foreign currencies and boost the economy.

‘If I knew the details about HIV, this may not have happened to me,’ laments Hasib. He also thinks that since he has been working for last few years, he has remained healthy. Therefore, he urges the government and other authorities to plan and arrange job facilities for HIV positive patients.