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Last Updated: Wednesday, 3 December, 2003, 12:32 GMT
'I was treated as an untouchable'

As part of a BBC series on Aids, people living with HIV from around the world tell their own stories in their own words.

Pakistani Shukria Gul, a 33-year-old, HIV positive mother, explains why she was motivated to try to combat ignorance about the disease through a centre she set up in Lahore.

Shukria Gul with her daughter
Shukria was relieved that her children were not infected
My husband had spent three years working in South Africa. After a car accident, he was given contaminated blood.

In 1995, he became ill and we found out that he was HIV positive. In fact, by then, he had full-blown Aids.

He was in the last stages of the illness and died soon afterwards. He never learnt of the diagnosis.

I was tested at the time and found out that I, too, was HIV positive. My children were also tested but, thank God, they tested negative. They were only little then, but now my daughter is 12-years-old and my son is 10.

Giving hope

When my husband and I were diagnosed, even our doctor didn't have any proper information about the disease. I suffered a kind of double crisis.

My husband's condition was getting worse and the doctors were very unhelpful. When he died, they even told the press, which created many problems for me.

There was a lot of ignorance about the illness and people in there area where I lived behaved as though it was dangerous and contagious. They treated me like some kind of untouchable.

There was a lot of ignorance about the illness and people in there area where I lived behaved as though it was dangerous and contagious
Shukria Gul
My family didn't have much information either, but they were still very supportive.

I went to Islamabad to get information and then I set up a non-governmental organisation called New Light. I wanted to raise awareness, to help people diagnosed with HIV and to give them a platform.

I wanted to tell them that this diagnosis does not mean their lives are over, they are not dead, they need to live with HIV.

People's attitudes are changing, but very slowly. We conducted a workshop in Peshawar, where the population is much more conservative.

A mullah at the workshop was irritated by our talk of sexual contact. He said: "All HIV patients should just be shot, that'll solve the problem".

On the last day of the workshop when I revealed that I was HIV positive, he stood up and apologised to me for what he'd said.

The following reflect a balance of the comments we received:

Shukria you are an inspiration to others. Good luck with your project and best wishes to you and your family.
J Norris-Green, Adelaide, South Australia

I see now that only people like you can make a meaningful difference
Crispin Oduobuk, Abuja

My heart goes out to you. I commend you for your strength and sense of purpose. What you are doing is simply unprecedented.

In my country, Nigeria, any mention of HIV/Aids sets the majority of the people hissing and sneering and passing derogatory comments. People hardly ever wait to hear or find out how one contacted the virus - it is instantly assumed that all HIV/Aids patients must have led promiscuous lives.

The challenge of bringing awareness to the people is not helped much by the millions being pumped into programmes ostensibly meant for this purpose.

I see now that only people like you can make a meaningful difference. To this end, I say, well done. I pray that your efforts will continue to yield good results and that you will know joy and fulfilment.
Crispin Oduobuk, Abuja, Nigeria

Shukria the name in Hindi means thank you. That's what the people in Pakistan should be saying to you for bringing HIV awareness. Keep up the brave and good work.
Agnelo, India

Shukria, not everyone has a heart like yours. You are one in a million. May all your beginnings end successfully. Good luck and God bless.
Srishayini WIjayaratnam, Dubai, UAE

We are praying for you and New Light
Koshy, India

HI Shukria. This is something great. I really appreciate your courage. We are praying for you and New Light. May god bless you.
Koshy, India

Dear Shukria, You are a very courageous lady to have initiated such a pro-active program [and not to while away in self-immolation] in an environment of mistrust, misinformation, despair and conservativeness. May God Almighty keep on giving you all the energy and help in your endeavour.
Khurshid Alam, Dhaka, Bangladesh

Shukria, you are really a brave woman. All other women in Pakistan should learn a lesson from you. That is, not in any condition one should loose hope. In fact it's your victory against HIV. Good luck and be happy.
Tahir Naeem, Islamabad, Pakistan

You are very brave and I am sorry for the loss of your husband. My daughter's husband also has HIV and they both together have to live with this. Your education of the public about this is a very brave thing to do. I wish you all the luck with this and know your work will not be in vain.
Cynthia Heath, Sheridan, USA

I can only admire your courage and bravery
Ms. Naseem Khan, Middlesex

Dear Shukria. I can only admire your courage and bravery. Being woman myself and from Pakistan I can imagine how difficult it must be to deal with ignorant people. May Allah bless you and help you in each and every way.
Ms. Naseem Khan, Middlesex, England

You are doing an excellent job. People like you are one in a million. Keep it up.
Chandra Sing Gurung, Singapore

I am so glad and happy to read that we have such a brave and courageous people like you in this world. I really appreciate your work and I hope many more people follow your footsteps in this good cause of yours.
Muhammad Tamoor, Manchester, England

Hi Shukria: I think you are a very brave woman. You are thinking about helping others despite your situation and not many have your courage. Hats off to you Shukria and good luck.
Siva Siventhiran, London, UK

Dear Shukria: I am so glad you are doing this. Please tell me if I could help, if nothing else I can send some money for local expenses. May God help you in bringing new light to others in suffering.
Satish Batta, USA

I have read the article regarding your work in Pakistan and would like to congratulate you on the fantastic courage you are showing. Is there any way I can help? Can I make a donation to New Light?
Sid Saeed, London, England

Ignorance in Pakistan needs to be exchanged with awareness so we may help those suffering from this illness to be able to come out of hiding and feel that they will not be victimized by the public, especially their neighbours. If you require any help from me of any kind, please let me know.
Intikhab Zaidi, Luton, England

Shukria, you are doing a wonderful job. Keep it up. I know there will be numerous occasions when you will feel despair, frustration, anger. These feelings are the natural outcome when you carry out such noble awareness efforts in your country. I can relate closely to the opposition that you may be facing since I too come from neighbouring India - where attitudes towards Aids and related topics are not that different from those in Pakistan. May God be with you all the time and provide help to you and your family.
Prashant, Ipswich, UK

Keep up, do not lose hope. You will survive. May God bless you.
Mirza Jawaid Baig, Texas, USA

Shukria - well done. In a society with such ignorance it is difficult to stand up and be counted. The easy option is to keep quiet and not doubt yourself. I am proud of you - that a woman with a disease that holds so much stigma in countries like India and Pakistan should speak out. You do it not only for yourself but for hundreds of thousands of others. I wish you all success for the future.
Dr Harpreet Arshi, Exeter, UK

The only thing I can say is, she is a very courageous woman and brave enough to stand in front of a very conservative society. This should be realised that people with HIV are still normal and they have the same rights and expectations as a non HIV-positive person. And HIV is not just because of physical relations with multiple people but there are so many other reasons as well. Good luck and well done Shukria Gul.
Usman J, Poole, Dorset, UK


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