It's been nearly two years since 26-year-old Tahmina Haidar found out she was infected with HIV, the virus that leads to AIDS.
After losing her husband and child to an AIDS-related illness and feeling stigmatized and isolated in her native village in Tajikistan, Haidar moved to Dushanbe to rebuild her life.
In an interview with RFE/RL's Farangis Najibullah, Haidar spoke about how she has learned to live with the potentially deadly virus and look "at the bright side" of her situation.
RFE/RL: How did you find out that you were infected with HIV?
My baby daughter got sick and died in hospital in July 2010. Then my husband died in September that year. After my daughter's death I found out that I was HIV-positive, too. Doctors say I've been infected with the virus since 2009, when my husband came back from [working in] Russia. He had a drug addiction, which I was not aware of. Later I found out that he had known he was HIV-positive but hadn't told me.
RFE/RL: What was your family's reaction when they were told about your medical condition?
When my family came to the hospital and heard that I and my husband were HIV-positive, they had a huge argument with us in the hospital. My family and relatives wouldn't speak to me for nearly a year. Initially, they thought they would get infected with the virus if I breathed on them or touched them.
RFE/RL: Shortly afterward, you left your village in the central Hisor district and moved to Dushanbe. How were you able to rebuild your life in the capital?
Before I got infected, I was a village housewife. My marriage was arranged by my parents. I didn't study anywhere, I didn't have a job, and had never seen Dushanbe. Now I'm studying psychology in a Dushanbe university, and I've also got a certificate from accountancy courses. I take English classes, too.
I've traveled to several countries. I consider myself lucky. I don't hate life because of this disease. Getting infected with this virus was my destiny. I don't blame anyone for this. From the moment I found out about it, I felt it was fate.
RFE/RL: Do you currently receive any medical treatment to manage your medical condition?
I feel completely normal, it feels like nothing has changed, health-wise. I feel the same as before being diagnosed with the virus. But I'm constantly under doctor supervision, I follow the doctors' orders, I lead a healthy lifestyle. Every three months I get a blood test to check my immune system. Currently, I don't need to receive any medicine because so far I'm feeling good.
Getting infected with this virus was my destiny. I don't blame anyone for this. From the moment I found out about it, I felt it was fate.
However, the time might come that my immune system weakens, and I will need to take medicine. Currently, the doctors tell me I need to lead a healthy lifestyle, eat well, and try to stay positive. If I continue like this, perhaps I won't need to take medicine in the next year or two. But when the time comes, the doctors would tell me to start taking medicine. Once I start taking the medicine, I would have to take it regularly for the rest of my life.
RFE/RL: Is medical treatment easily available for HIV/AIDS patients in Tajikistan?
All patients [are meant to] receive medicine and medical treatment free of charge. It's funded by the government and international agencies. According to Tajik law, HIV/AIDS patients are eligible for free health care. But in reality, the problem is that they can only get free medical treatment at the Center for HIV/AIDS. Elsewhere, all other doctors charge money.
RFE/RL: Some HIV/AIDS patients in Tajikistan complain about what they describe as doctors' prejudice toward such patients.
Yes, many doctors here stigmatize HIV/AIDS patients. They routinely insult and intimidate such patients. Despite being doctors and knowing the fact that this virus isn't transmitted by breathing, they try not to admit HIV-infected patients. They insult such patients.
So when HIV-infected women have to visit doctors [outside the Center for HIV/AIDS] they usually hide from the doctors the fact that they are HIV-positive. When we disclose our condition to doctors, they usually use any pretext not to admit us.
RFE/RL: Given your condition, it must be hard for you to make plans for the future.
I try to live my life hoping that I will have a good future, because getting upset would weaken my immune system and damage my health. Of course, there are moments that I feel hopeless. But I try to banish negative thoughts and look at the bright side of my situation.