What Is It Like to Be HIV Positive in Egypt?

Friday, September 05, 2008

An Interview With Ayman, an HIV-Positive Egyptian

By Terri Wilder (Source: TheBody.com)

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?

I am on Norvir [ritonavir], Invirase [saquinavir] and Combivir [AZT/3TC].

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.

posted by Matthew Schauki at 9/05/2008 03:09:00 AM 10 comments

Egypt: Court Upholds HIV Sentences, Reinforces Intolerance

Five Convictions in Fear-Driven Crackdown a Blow to Health and Justice

(Cairo, May 29, 2008, Human Rights Watch) – A Cairo appeals court’s decision to uphold the sentences imposed on five men jailed in a crackdown on people living with HIV/AIDS underscores the Egyptian government’s dangerous indifference to public health and justice, Human Rights Watch said today. The May 28 ruling upheld the maximum three-year prison terms for each of the five, following a months-long campaign targeting men with HIV/AIDS. A total of nine men have been sentenced to prison so far.

“To send these men to prison because of their HIV status is inhuman and unjust,” said Joe Amon, director of the HIV/AIDS program at Human Rights Watch. “Police, prosecutors, and doctors have already abused them and violated their most basic rights, and now fear has trumped justice in a court of law.”  
 
On May 7, a court of first instance in Cairo had convicted the five men on charges of “habitual practice of debauchery,” a phrase that in Egyptian law encompasses consensual sexual acts between men.  
 
Before their first trial, a prosecutor told the men’s lawyer that they should not be allowed to “roam the streets freely” because the government considered them “a danger to public health.”  
 
Since October 2007, Cairo police have arrested a dozen men on suspicion of being HIV-positive. The crackdown began when one man, stopped on the street during an altercation, told officers he was HIV-positive. Police arrested him and the man with him, beat and abused them, and interrogated them to name sexual contacts. Police then began picking up others based on information from those interrogations.  
 
On January 14, 2008, a Cairo court sentenced four of those men to one-year prison terms on “debauchery” charges. An appeals court upheld those sentences on February 2. The present five defendants were referred for trial separately in March. Authorities released three other men, who tested negative for HIV, without charge, after months in detention.  
 
While the 12 were in detention, doctors from the Ministry of Health forcibly subjected all of them to HIV tests without their consent. Doctors from Egypt’s Forensic Medical Authority performed abusive anal examinations on the men to “prove” they had had sex with other men. Human Rights Watch has documented that such examinations conducted in detention constitute torture. Police and guards beat several of the men in detention. A prosecutor told one of the men that he had tested positive for HIV by saying, “People like you should be burnt alive. You do not deserve to live.”  
 
The prisoners who tested HIV-positive were chained to their beds in hospitals for months. After a local and international outcry, the Ministry of Health ordered the men unchained on February 25.  
 
“Putting these men in prison serves neither justice nor public health,” Amon said. “The Egyptian government and the country’s medical profession must act to end this campaign of intolerance.”

posted by Matthew Schauki at 9/05/2008 02:59:00 AM 3 comments