August 1, 2008
The XVII International AIDS Conference (AIDS 2008) is a magnet that attracts thousands upon thousands of HIV-positive people, activists and community leaders from all walks of life and all parts of the globe. We were fortunate enough to meet a few of these people and talk to them about their perspectives and their experiences. In this interview, Terri Wilder talks with Ayman, an Egyptian, about what it's like to live with HIV in his home country.
Ayman, what is it like to live with HIV in Egypt?
Living with HIV in Egypt is very tough, because the stigma is very high in Egypt against people who are living with HIV. We are having a very tough fight in our country to do what we have to do. To be able to have a safe living environment, away from stigma, away from many other things, we have to fight. [We have to fight for] support and care -- we do not have it professionally. We have [HIV] medications, [but] only one line. If you get resistance from this line, you will not be able to get another one. I think we have a very tough life with HIV in Egypt, and we have to fight more and more, so we can get our rights.
What do you think the biggest challenge is?
Our biggest challenge is to lessen the stigma, and also to make our leaders and our government [provide us with better] support, care and treatment.
What do you mean by "stigma"? Are people losing their jobs or their housing?
It's there by all its meanings. People avoid you. They don't know how HIV is transferred. They don't know anything about anything, and they treat you very badly. You can be kicked out of your home. If it's not your property, if you are renting it, you would be kicked out. In your job, you cannot say that [you have HIV], because if you said it, you would be fired. They would find many other reasons to fire you. It would not be HIV. I have been working in a place for one and a half years. I didn't say anything, and I couldn't say that.
Where do people get their medical care?
They give out medications only in our Ministry of Health [in Cairo]. This is the only way we can get it, because it's very expensive. We are a third-world country. Many of us cannot buy medications by ourselves, so we can get it only from one place, which is the Ministry of Health. Even if you live far away, you have to come all this way -- from any place in Egypt, any region in Egypt, you have to come to Cairo so you can get your medication.
There is no other support or care. If you go to a doctor for an operation and say that you have HIV, he will not give it to you. Actually, right now, we have HIV-positive pregnant women, and we don't know how and where they are going to give birth. And the places the government does give us are of very, very low standards. The kid, if he does not get HIV, will get another disease.
What kind of support do you get from family and friends?
My family, they are very supportive. When I first knew [that I was positive], I did not have that much information [about HIV]. I was waiting for death. My mother, she was the one who first told me that what has happened has happened, that I had to look ahead. How you are going to live -- what happens to you -- this is decided by God, so you have to try to live your life in a normal, nice way.
I don't have too many friends whom I can tell. One friend is my sponsor in a Narcotics Anonymous program. The other one is an HIV-positive person who is living with me -- not "living with me" [in a romantic sense], but she is the closest one to me. She has been helping me in many things.
You get your medical care from the Ministry of Health. Are you on medications right now?
Yes, I am.
What medications are you on?
How have you been feeling since you started taking these?
I have been taking medications almost for two years. I'm getting well. I remember that when I started, my CD4 count was about 68. I weighed about 60 kilograms [130 lbs.]. Now my CD4 count is 164, and I'm past 95 kilograms [209 lbs.]. So it's good.
Do you feel good?
Yes. I feel much, much better.
In what year were you diagnosed?
It was 28 June 2006.
Thank you so much for speaking with us today.
Thank you very much, Terri.
This transcript has been lightly edited for clarity.