Living with AIDS in Middle East

Life is difficult sometimes. Especially when you live in Middle East and you find out to be HIV positive. Sometimes become always.

This is what happened to Asmaa, a main character of Amr Salama movie. Even though it was released in 2011 it still carries valid message and sparks conversation about sensitive issue. The film is set in Cairo and shows everyday life and struggle of HIV positive woman in her 40s. In order to protect her family and make a living Asmaa keeps her medical condition secret. The only place where she can openly talk about herself is AIDS support group. Complete strangers became her family. But having the virus is not the only of her problems. Asmaa desperately needs gallbladder operation. In this situation an offer to take part in TV show and talk about AIDS brings her hope to get treatment she needs outside Egypt. 

The full movie with English subtitles is available on YouTube:

‘Asmaa’ is based on a true story of a woman who actually died because of gallbladder burst and is inspired by lives of HIV patients from one of support centres in Egypt.6 years before movie’s premiere, in 2005 Amr Salama made documentary about AIDS for United Nations and this is how he got to know HIV patients. In one of the interviews the director talks about the process of making the film and obstacles he and his crew had to face while filming. “We got banned from filming at the Cairo Airport when they knew the film’s topic, although we had the required permits.”he said. ‘Asmaa’ is an outcome of three years of collecting people’s stories and constant dilemma about the script which Salama rewrote more than 30 times. Some of the patients even appeared in the movie playing minor roles. He also made the actors to meet HIV carriers to help them better understand struggle they face.

And this is what the movie is about for me. The struggle. It’s about being different, somehow worse, it’s about being part of minority, about the fear of not being accepted, judged, despised. It’s about longing for freedom, equal rights, happiness and life. Being asked: “What do you really wish for, Asmaa?” she said: “What do I wish for? I don’t want to be afraid. I fear many things. I don’t want to be afraid of the pain. I don’t want to be afraid of running out of medicine. I don’t want to be afraid of people. People don’t understand what this thing is like. I don’t want to be afraid that they know. I don’t want to be afraid of what they’d do to me if they knew. If I stop fearing the attack, or running out of medicine, or people… or Habiba. Maybe I’d feel like I’m alive.”

The Middle East and North Africa (MENA) has one of the lowest HIV prevalence rates. Nevertheless the region is becoming a matter of concern. Since 2001 number of carriers have increased by 35% and between 2005 and 2013 AIDS – related deaths rose by 66%. Moreover cultular aspect doesn’t do any good to tackle the problem and help those infected. HIV positive patients are very often rejected by society and even family. Ill informed people including medical staff believe that disease is highly contagious and can be passes as easily as flu or by mosquitoes. 

Beside ‘Asmaa’ I also highly recommend short documentary about AIDS by Amr Salama: 

And for those who would like to know more about HIV problem in MENA region, AVERT report:

http://www.avert.org/professionals/hiv-around-world/middle-east-north-africa-mena

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