Northwest China’s predominantly-Muslim Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region is among the country's five worst affected provinces with HIV/AIDS cases, reports say. Salamet, the 26-year-old mother of a healthy three-year-old son, was diagnosed as HIV positive six years ago. Since learning of her disease, she has spent much of her time working with Yarip, an NGO that educates the community about how to protect against HIV/AIDS and the dangers of intravenous drug use. She has worked as a Yarip volunteer since 2005.
“We take care of AIDS patients and we hold conversations with them about discrimination and the problems they may encounter. We try to boost their morale because people [in Xinjiang] look at AIDS as a dreadful kind of thing. I think we need to understand AIDS patients better. People here segregate themselves from AIDS patients—even from their friends and siblings. For me, it’s not a dreadful disease at all. There are many more serious diseases than this one. I hope people will come to think this way too.
I found out [that I was infected] after I got a check up, but my husband is not infected. It is only myself that has been affected. Throughout the process, he supported me very much and accepted me for who I am. This encouraged me. He continues to support me in many ways—even in my volunteering activities with the NGO against AIDS.
Even doctors here encourage us to have abortions [for those who are HIV positive]. They say the chance is high for the fetus to be infected with HIV and that if [the mother is] HIV positive, you should never think about having a baby … (but) from participating in an Australian-funded training course, I learnt that if you follow the doctors’ orders and use specific medication, you can minimize the chance of your baby being infected by HIV. People think that if their children become infected, it is so horrible that it is impossible for them to accept this simple reality. I thought that, like the Australians who ran the course and taught us about the details of pregnancy with HIV, it is better to instruct patients about what to do so that they can live their lives as well as possible. That is when I became a volunteer.
I have never [feared discrimination]. I think that as long as you can remain hopeful, you can help other people around you. That’s what I think. I don’t even remember the last time I was hospitalized. Whenever I lie down if I’m a little sick, I am always eager to get back up because I am afraid of dying lying down. I know there are people who rely on me for help. There are people who are encouraged by my words and try to live to become a volunteer like me. When I see these people, I become very happy.
I’ve never been scared of [the onset of symptoms] and I never will be scared. What I want to do is more good things while I’m healthy. Not only AIDS, but many serious diseases don’t have to be terminal. Every part of my body still works well. I can see and I can hear. This is more valuable to me. Everyone will eventually die—the question is how do you want to die? What I hope and think is that while I’m healthy like this I will do good things, organize more people, and save more lives.
The most important [part of survival] is your psychological well-being. Everyone should learn how to balance themselves. Secondly, support from the people around you—encouragement and communication. At the beginning I didn’t have many people to communicate with. I was alone. When I was frustrated, I tried to dance, I tried to sing, I tried to read. I would sometimes go shopping. I tried my best to keep myself balanced. Sometimes, when I look at my child, I become so thankful.”
Interview by Guliqiekela Keyoumu of RFA's Uyghur service.