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LEBANON: Hassan Cherry, "There is a kind of HIV phobia in my country"

Photo: Keishamaza Rukikaire/IRIN
“We need positive leadership to fight stigma and discrimination in our society"
Nairobi, 2 June 2009 (PlusNews) - Hassan Cherry, 28, an AIDS activist from Beirut, is one of only about 3,000 HIV-positive people in Lebanon. He talked to IRIN/PlusNews about the fear and ignorance that people living with HIV still face in his country.

"I found out about my own status in 2004 when I applied for a visa to travel to Kuwait, where I was planning to work as a journalist. Because I tested HIV-positive, I could not work in Kuwait, so I continued with my job as a journalist in Lebanon.

"My friends and family were very supportive, but I did not feel I could come out and tell everyone my status – there is a kind of HIV phobia in my country.

"Most institutions do not accept people living with HIV as employees, and we do not qualify for health insurance. As you can see from my case, in the Arab world you cannot live and work as a foreigner if you are HIV-positive; it's the same in Lebanon – HIV-positive foreigners are not allowed to live and work here.

"The main problem for people with HIV is the expensive medical treatment - although ARVs are covered by the Ministry of Health with the support of the national AIDS programme, there are shortages from time to time and we sometimes have to pay for our own CD4 tests, our own ARV drugs and even for treatment of opportunistic infections.

"We need positive leadership to fight stigma and discrimination in our society. Public awareness campaigns are very few – we only hear about HIV on World AIDS Day. We came up with a declaration of rights of people living with HIV, but the government is yet to respond to it.

"We recently formed the very first association for people living with HIV in Lebanon; it's called 'Think Positive'. We have 65 HIV-positive members and are trying to recruit several public figures, such as artists and religious leaders, so that we can raise the profile of HIV in the country and reduce this phobia.

"The national AIDS programme is always responding positively, giving us information, education and communication materials, as well as providing rapid tests and pushing the government to provide free healthcare for people living with HIV.

"But we need the media to take a greater initiative against HIV so that they give bigger voice to people living with HIV, who need more understanding and more dignity."

kr/ks/he

Theme(s): HIV/AIDS (PlusNews), PWAs/ASOs - PlusNews, Stigma/Human Rights/Law - PlusNews,

[This report does not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations]

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