Wednesday, November 19, 2003

'I eat, dance, laugh and play'

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

Fadl advises people to reach for the condoms

Fadl Mehrez, a 48-year-old Tunisian who has had the virus for 18 years, describes how important the transition from Aids victim to Aids activist has been to him.

I used to be a student in France. I got married and I had a daughter. After a few years we got divorced amiably and without problems. A few years later I contracted the HIV virus.

When I found out that I was HIV-positive, the first thing I did was start to read about the disease and find out more about it.

I got married for the second time to a lady who had Aids, but she later died.

I had a lot of Tunisian friends who died of Aids while I was in France. After I came back to Tunisia I visited their families. I was very upset because some of these families were poor and some of my friends had fathered sons and daughters whom they left without anything.

I promised them that I would try to change the way Aids sufferers are looked at and to fight the misconceptions about the nature of the disease.

I have been sick for years, but I am leading a normal life. I dance, I laugh, I play, I eat, I drink and I sleep, just like a normal human being.

I used to take drugs. I was addicted to heroin. I knew I was subjecting myself to the dangers of contracting HIV. I used to have sex without using condoms. I used to live a dangerous life.

I am a spontaneous person. I try to be positive and carry on doing voluntary field work to help Aids sufferers and their families and friends.

I knew the dangers of taking drugs and having unprotected sex, but I wasn't afraid. I was defying danger.

When I contracted HIV I was about 30 years old. I was in France when I found out. I also found out I wasn't alone. I started to contact French charity organizations that help Aids victims.

I volunteered in some of these organizations, and I used to take part in the annual World Aids Day demonstrations in France.

From that point I was no longer just an Aids victim and I became an activist calling for awareness about the disease, and defending the rights of Aids victims.

I travelled to several African countries and met people with Aids. I felt that they were very keen to talk to me despite the language and culture barriers between us.

My message to the families of people with Aids is that they have to support them, give them hope and feel their suffering

I knew there was a huge difference between the way people look at Aids in France and in Tunisia, where there are a lot of misconceptions about Aids.

I insisted on meeting Aids sufferers in hospitals in Tunisia, and I formed an association with them. Our activities extended to several African countries.

I found that people with Aids in Tunisia are afraid of talking about their sickness. But I was determined to be the first to come out in the open and face society and raise awareness, and say that people with Aids have a right to lead a normal life.

My daughter has grown up now and she is living with her mother in France. I haven't seen her for years.

I live with my sisters and my father. My mother is dead.

Sometimes when they see me suffer they are distressed. Sometimes I feel they are fed up with me, and at times I feel that I am an embarrassment to them.

Life is good. I love life, and I love people. I can't have a normal job because of my condition, but I do my voluntary work to help people with Aids.

The government in Tunisia pays for the treatment of all people who have Aids.

I don't have any difficulty in getting the medicines that I need. My problem is with meeting the cost of living, and transportation.

The government gives me a small allowance which I get by with.

My message to the families of people with Aids is that they have to support them, give them hope, feel their suffering and help them to be brave and cope with the disease.

And I urge young people to stay off drugs and use condoms.


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