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Interview: HIV-Positive Tajik Woman Says 'I Try To Banish Negative Thoughts'

Tahmina Haidar says she lives life "hoping that I will have a good future, because getting upset would weaken my immune system and damage my health."
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?

Tahmina Haidar:
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.