World AIDS Day: Yemeni victims in need
But despite parliament's approval, in 2009, of a law protecting the rights of people living with HIV, they continue to suffer discrimination.
Several organizations and associations in Yemen that work in the field have vowed to work harder to fight AIDS.
An increasing number of refugees, a lack of education, poverty, and Gulf nationals who come to Yemen to take advantage of a low-priced sex trade are among the major factors in the spread of AIDS in Yemen, according to experts.
Several AIDS activists have complained that the law enacted to protect the rights of people living with HIV is not implemented.
Abdu Al-Mansoob, head of the Abu Moosa Al-Ashari Association, stressed the importance of working hard to fight AIDS not just today, December 1, World AIDS Day, but throughout the year.
“We shouldn't hold workshops and awareness campaigns inside closed halls; we should have such campaigns in parks and in open areas to convey our message to as many people as possible,” he said.
The association has been trying to eliminate such discrimination by training imams, journalists, security officers, judges and public officials, according to Al-Mansoob.
“Most people in Yemen accuse AIDS sufferers of having sex and engaging in immoral behaviors,” he said. “We must deal with HIV/AIDS victims as human beings, regardless of what they have done. We should realize that all people are vulnerable to mistakes.”
Speaking about the anti-discrimination law, he said, “Our culture's awareness of the rights of people living with HIV is still limited, and this leads to discrimination against these victims.”
“We should create a campaign to raise awareness of this law among Yemenis. We should also launch an advocacy campaign for AIDS sufferers,” he said.
Wedad Al-Azazi, a trainer at the Progressio organization and Abu Moosa Al-Ashari Association, revealed that many HIV/AIDS sufferers complain of violations of their rights by doctors.
“Even doctors have mistaken views about AIDS. They discriminate against AIDS victims and mistreat them,” she explained. “This kind of discrimination increases their suffering.”
“People living with HIV need medical, social, economic and psychological support,” she said, also indicating that Yemeni women suffer the most from a lack thereof.
“They have been pushed from their homes. They cannot work anywhere anymore,” she explained, pointing out that there are rich people who became very poor after contracting HIV.
United Nations involvement
Mona Al-Maghafi, Reproductive Health Program Associate at the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) said that Yemeni citizens' awareness about HIV/ AIDS prevention and transmission remains low.
“However, this is slowly changing and we at the UNFPA, along with other UN agencies, and through our national partners from the government and NGOs, are working very hard to resolve this.”
Al-Maghafi indicated that UNFPA will be supporting the Save the Children and For All Foundation to mark World Aids Day, December 1, from Saturday in Ibb governorate.
“There will be presentations by actors and individuals living with HIV/AIDS. They will speak about how they became infected and how they continue to live with the disease every day. There will also be a small exhibition covering many HIV/AIDS issues, and the release of a thousand balloons bearing health promotion messages, and youth competitions.”
Speaking about the impact of HIV/AIDS on development in Yemen, she said: “Disease and poverty are intertwined, particularly in the least-developed countries, where mortality and morbidity as a result of disease are highest. However, a low-prevalence country like Yemen has not been hit as hard as many Sub-Saharan countries that now must deal with the socioeconomic impact of many orphaned children who have lost parents due to HIV/AIDS.”
Education: a difficult task
Zainab Al-Qadasi, 24, is an active peer educator in Yemen. She has faced many challenges and difficult times during her field visits to randomly-chosen homes, schools, mosques and colleges.
“It was difficult for me to educate people, and especially women, about this issue. Some people even tried to beat me up because I wanted to speak with them about AIDS,” she said.
“Discussing such topics is considered something shameful by many women in Yemen. They say that they are respectable and that it's unacceptable to discuss such topics.”
In spite of the challenges, Al-Qadasi has been able to convince some women and students about the significance of the AIDS issue. She has also managed to educate some sex workers and beggars about the AIDS/HIV virus.
She has distributed many brochures and pamphlets about AIDS among university students. “It's more difficult to convince educated people about this issue, as they deal with me as if they already 'know it all'.”
A very personal story
Um Ahmed, 21, at first didn't apprehend the seriousness of the HIV virus when a doctor told her that she had tested positive seven years ago.
Her doctor then told her: “There is no solution for this virus except death.”
She believed the doctor and tried to commit suicide. “I felt that my life was meaningless, especially after my friends abandoned me,”
“My close friends left me,” she said sadly. “They told me that they were afraid of me. They didn’t even allow themselves to touch me.”
After the death of her husband, she was expelled from her husband's family's home. Her furniture and personal property was confiscated.
“I had to stay at my family's home, and they were angry at me,” she said.
Um Ahmed resorted to traditional medicine in pursuit of a quick cure, but met only with failure.
“I was careless. I wasn't eating or drinking well because I felt that my life had ended,” she said. “I was feeling that all people were afraid of me. Their harsh treatment had upset me.”
Over time, Um Ahmed met some girls living with HIV/AIDS and started to read much more about the virus.
She soon made her mind up to become an activist.
Nowadays, Um Ahmed is one of the most prominent peer educators in Hodeida, having joined multiple organizations and associations in this capacity.
What motivated her to become a peer educator? “I felt the suffering of girls living with HIV, so I want to ease their pains.”
Since 2010, Um Ahmed has been working hard and with confidence. She now aspires to establish her own project.
“I won't let the disease defeat me. With my confidence, I'll relieve my pains and the pains of other AIDS victims,” she said.