Idris is a 36-year man. He is married and has a five years old son. Photo: UNDP Afghanistan / Ali Fakhri / 2018

“Last winter many homeless people living with HIV died on the streets. We are trying to save more people this year,” says Idris.

Idris is a 36-year old activist for HIV rights. He is committed to helping people who are homeless or using drugs and living with HIV.

Idris knows what these people are going through for a simple reason: he has been living with HIV himself for the past eight years.
Some years ago, Idris lived in Iran, during which time he began using and injecting drugs, and was diagnosed with HIV.
But now he leads a normal life, with a wife and five-year-old son.

“The past is already gone, I live for now,” says Idris. “My small family is the most important gift of my life. I enjoy taking care of them.”

By sticking to his treatment, eating well and exercising regularly, Idris is living a healthy and productive life.

“My wife and son are healthy. They are not living with HIV. I am no different from other people.”

Idris is keen to point out that living with HIV is not as difficult or scary as many people seem to think. He now works to remove some of the stigma which is still attached to the illness.

Life for people living with HIV in Afghanistan can be particularly hard. Many of the people Idris works with are homeless, living under bridges and exposed to the harsh weather. In addition, they face severe stigma and discrimination, which Idris has witnessed first-hand.

“I have seen a young man with HIV being thrown into the Kabul river, by someone who claimed that death was better than life for him,” he recalls.

He also remembers various stories of people living with HIV who have been turned away by hospitals or fired from their jobs.

Idris is thankful for the support he received in the past, and hopes now to do the same for others.

“Meeting with men living with HIV is very important to me, as they need my advice and help,” explains Idris. “They have my phone number, so sometimes they call me day and night and they know they can reach me.”

Idris is an activist, he helps homeless people living with HIV, encouraging them to live healthy lives. Photo: UNDP Afghanistan / Ali Fakhri / 2018

The support Idris is providing is vital to helping tackle stigma and discrimination in Afghanistan.

“With greater awareness about HIV, coupled with strong public health services, the hope is that in the near future many more people can enjoy healthy and productive lives, just like Idris,” said Mr. Jocelyn Mason, UNDP Country Director.

About 900 people are reported to be living with HIV in Afghanistan and regularly receiving treatment. However, UNAIDS estimates that as many as 7850 people are living with HIV in the country, with most unaware of their health status.

Key populations, such as those who use and inject drugs are among those at the highest risk of exposure to HIV but remain largely marginalized and out of reach of health and social services. People who inject drugs are around 28 times more likely to be living with HIV than the general population.

"In Afghanistan, HIV prevalence among injecting drug users has been as high as 4.4%,” said Dr. Rik Peeperkorn, WHO Representative Afghanistan.

“We have to carry out prevention activities specifically targeting this key population to prevent Afghanistan experiencing a concentrated HIV epidemic among injecting drug users,” he continued.

Currently, UNDP and the Global Fund to fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria partner with the Ministry of Health to provide antiretroviral services in five centres in Afghanistan. The centres provide antiretroviral treatment to all people living with HIV who are registered, in addition to providing regular checkups, adherence counselling and treatment support.

Furthermore, over 25,000 people from key populations, including people who inject drugs, have been reached with HIV prevention services and more than 20,000 people have been tested for HIV and know their HIV status. Opioid substitution therapy is also provided for people who inject drugs.

“The Afghanistan National Programme for Control of AIDS/HIV, STI & Hepatitis (ANPASH) with the support of partners have been working to scale up testing and treatment around the country, and WHO will continue to provide technical support to the ANPASH to increase access to testing and treatment for HIV, strengthening HIV/TB collaborative activities and Hepatitis C treatment " said Dr Peeperkorn.

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