Wednesday, April 20, 2005

AIDS Here? What Do We Know?

Rami is an interesting case of humanity under fire. He was born with hemophilia. After a surgery eight years later, he received blood transfusion contaminated by the HIV virus.
They told him, “you have two years to live.” He knew everyone would eventually die, so he couldn’t understand what all the fuss was about.
Today, he is twenty-eight, and the renewable two-year extension is still hanging like a sword over his head. I noted he never cites dates, and when I asked why, he explained: When you await execution in a death chamber, time becomes irrelevant.
Still, Rami has always been an A student. He is now doing his Masters in history. That is because he believes in what the Prophet (peace be upon him) said: Do for your life like you live forever, and do for your hereafter like you die tomorrow.
Most people didn’t know about his illness, but some of those who knew made him feel guilty. He was kicked out of dinner tables, refused shake-hands, and denied medical treatment even in emergency rooms.
“I can’t forget when I had an emergency and went from one hospital to another asking for help only to be told: We don’t treat AIDS patients here. They said it like I was a criminal who brought this on himself and the world. I asked for an ambulance to my hospital in Taif (he lives in Makkah) but they refused. I remember crawling to my car in pain and dizziness with the ER doctor shaking his head, probably in disgust.
People suffering from AIDS, hepatitis and similar diseases need compassion more than anything — not pity, not tears. They just want to be treated like humans. They want to live what is left of their lives in dignity. Instead, they are shunted to a psychological prison, left to decay and disintegrate painfully on their own.
So what do the “Ramis” want from society? “We want and need acceptance, recognition and understanding. We need to eradicate baseless doubts and fears. We want people to treat us like human beings, not as nuclear refuse. This can only happen when we educate society with public awareness programs in schools, mosques and the media.”
Rami is proposing to set up what he calls “Friends of the Disabled Society.” He hoped members would include celebrities from all walks of life — media, sports, business, arts and academia, headed by the governor of Makkah Region, Prince Abdul Majeed.
He studied for many years the project he regards as his life’s dream and legacy. In fact, that’s exactly why he decided to break all social taboos and went public in last week’s Arab News interview. Only with such shock treatment, he calculated, will society wake up to the realities they hide under the carpet, hoping one day they will disappear altogether.
He plans for the nongovernmental organization, which he would gladly manage, to conduct public awareness campaigns such as organized events, participation in conferences, talk shows, workshops, media programs, school tours, etc. He would set up an extensive information center with a specialized library, research tools and an electronic database in cooperation with the world’s best medical and academic research centers in the field. The information would be accessible to doctors, specialists, patients, as well as the media and public.
In addition, he plans for the society to provide a social and sports club, a scientific forum, and a service center for patients. It would organize social and sports events for patients and their families and friends, and help them with their psychological, social and family problems. It would help in getting scholarships, jobs and would arrange marriages among patients under medical supervision and with expert consultation.
Rami is in a hurry. He explains that he doesn’t have much time. That is why he would love to achieve his vision before he has to go.
Thousands of AIDS patients as well as those suffering from other sexually and blood-transmitted diseases are suffering in silence. Most hide their illness, which increases the chances of transmitting the disease. It also raises the risk for patients who might skip certain treatments and precautions to hide their problem.
Women, more than men, pay a heavy price. They usually contract the disease from husbands, children and by blood transfusion. Even if they sin, who are we to judge them? Is the heavy punishment not harsh enough for us to try them more?
I call for Rami’s dream to be realized. I call on all those who could help, by joining and supporting his project, to give a hand.

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