There are not many who decide to lead by example after having been afflicted with a lethal disease
BACK in 1990 when Nazir Masih was found to be HIV positive in the United Arab Emirates where he was working, it was difficult to accept the veracity of the news. In this respect, a question that has reared its head is: how to break such a news to family members of an Aids victim. Nazir did tell his brother who was also working in Abu Dhabi about his illness. As soon as his brother heard the news, he felt shocked and starting scolding Nazir. How did he get this evil disease? Disappointed, Nazir was deported to Pakistan. By 1990, no one had been diagnosed with HIV in Pakistan.
When he arrived at the airport he thought that the information might already have been passed by United Arab Emirates authorities to airport officials and they might detain him at the airport, and he might not be allowed to go home. Being not aware what type of treatment he would receive at the hands of airport officials, he was full of fear. When he got out of the airport without facing any obstacle, he took a sigh of relief and was certain that now he could see his family again.
Because of HIV, NazirÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s hope in life had vanished. He met a lady doctor in Lahore who gave him false hope that his disease was curable and she would start the treatment soon. He thought that once he got rid of the disease he could get back to the United Arab Emirates and start a new life. He mentally prepared himself to pay any cost to get healed. He sold his house and started receiving treatment from the lady doctor; but when the money was completely gone after taking expensive medicines for a couple of months, he decided to not to undergo the treatment anymore. He went to his doctor and told her that he was leaving. She told him that he should get a final test done to see the difference. After getting the report in two monthsÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ time he was informed by her that he was found to be HIV positive. He said while he was continuously getting treatment from her, she kept telling him that he was HIV negative. Anyhow, since he could not afford the treatment anymore, he had to leave.
When government officials got the information from the same doctor that there was an HIV positive patient in Pakistan they raided his place with ambulances. News of the first ever HIV patient in the country was also of significance for the government due to the stigma attached to the disease. Having no in-depth knowledge of the disease the officials over-reacted to finding the first case. Some of them said he should be completely quarantined and others suggested that he must not be allowed to meet other people.
Government officials suggested that NazirÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s children and wife must also take tests to find out if they had been infected or not. The ministry of health arranged for his children to go to Islamabad for his childrenÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s tests where there was a laboratory that had HIV testing facilities. His family was found negative. Nazir said he would never forget the humiliation at the hands of a pick-up driver who did not allow his children to sit on the vehicleÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s seats. He said that at that time he deeply regretted coming to Pakistan as his children were facing humiliation because of him.
To make matters worst, a reporter of an Urdu daily came to him and told him that the secretary health had sent him to get pictures of his children. He complied with the directive, but did not know that he was to receive another shock. The next day pictures of his children were printed in the newspaper mentioning that he had Aids. Now he had no way to escape. Someone met his father in the morning after reading the newspaper and told him that his son and grandchildren had Aids. What he had been hiding for long was made public.
His friends or even close relatives did not want to meet him and his children. To make ends meet he started working as a bicycle mechanic in a rented shop in Lahore. Some residents of the colony went to the owner of the shop and told him to get the shop vacated since Nazir had Aids. The shopowner, being a God-fearing person, told them that he would not get the shop vacated as long as Nazir paid the rent regularly. Many people stopped coming to his shop when they came to know about the disease.
Being the first HIV/Aids positive patient in Pakistan, Nazir was sponsored by the UNAIDS to participate in a conference in Philippines. When he heard testimonies of other Aids patients around the world he felt that he was not alone undergoing this trauma. He made a commitment to himself of doing something constructive in Pakistan. He was so motivated that at UNAIDSÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ request, he agreed to speak to the media at a press conference and told mediamen that he was an HIV/Aids patient.
This led to something else. In 1999, with the help of some other colleagues, he started an organization by the name of the New Light Aids Control Society. He got his first pilot project called the Ã¢â‚¬Å“Care and SupportÃ¢â‚¬Â through the Catholic Relief Services initially for six months. As soon as he established the project six families having Aids patients registered with the project. The purpose of the project was to provide ration and medicines for the patients. After successful completion of the project it was further extended, and the support still continues.
Apart from that, Nazir was invited by the UNDP to participate in the New Delhi Aids conference. After participating in the New Delhi conference, the UNDP entrusted him with a project for the enhancement of the skills of HIV people, so that they could earn a living. This project was initially thought to be for a time period of six months, but later on was extended up to three years.
At present, the New Light Aids Control Society has 94 HIV positive registered members in Pakistan and has a network of offices in Lahore, Karachi, Rawalpindi, Kasur and Multan. All of these members are non-drug users. The society provides school fee for two children of every Aids patient. Most importantly, it is providing anti-retroviral (ARV) drug to its registered members which costs between Rs20,000 and Rs58,000. The treatment is sometimes administered to the patients after every three months. This cost is met through the support of local philanthropists.
With persistence and determination Nazir has not only fought physically with the HIV/Aids virus, but he has also won the battle in defeating the stigma attached to the dreaded disease in a society where ignorance and intolerance dominate many spheres of life.
Nazir Masih has become a symbol of courage, and a representative voice of the HIV/Aids patients in Pakistan. A person who could hardly read and write and who was a bicycle mechanic by profession is heading an organization having offices in five cities, leading a staff of 22 persons, and has successfully completed six projects. Life for him has totally changed. The same people in the locality who once did not want to talk to him and his children now come to his children and tell them that their father is organizing seminars, to which theyÃ¢â‚¬â„¢re not invited. They seek his attention now.
Nazir has come a long way. He has participated in various international conferences. The happiest occasion in his life was when he saw his daughter getting married. His daughter is now happily married and has a child. Nazir has turned the tide and has become a torch-bearer and a path-finder for many Aids patients in Pakistan. (Article was produced in Pakistan Magazine in 2005)