If class has another name, it would be Marvi Sirmed. This is why even in face of vile stigmatisation, she didn’t lose her calm and responded with class and in the process, schooled the opponents on sensitivity of HIV.

A fake news post about her which in Express Tribune post style claimed that Marvi has contracted HIV while also mocking the “my body my choice” slogan from the women’s march and insinuating something sexual was making rounds on the internet. Marvi responded to that by saying:

This has been doing rounds for last couple of weeks. I was deliberately not saying anything coz I really wanted it to silently die. But guess one has to counter ignorance and ignominious, sanctimonious buggers who think this would damage me. For the birdbrained, this &#Thread 

She went on to say:

1: I’m not infected with HIV. So chill.
2: HIV / AIDS is not just transmitted Sexually. It is not an indictment of the moral charecter of the infected. So kindly don’t ever use it to stigmatise your opponents or people you want to disgrace. This would -vely impact the infected.

Pakistanis generally have a lot of ignorance when it comes to sexually transmitted infections especially HIV and anyone who has contracted the virus is instantly stigmatised and worst is attributed to the affected person. Contracting HIV and sexual perversions are often used interchangeably and in many instances it is like a death sentence for the patients who are isolated and socially-boycotted.

I asked Fulbright Scholar and Public Health Specialist Muhammad Moiz for a comment on this and he said:

“First of all we need to consider the fact that HIV is a global phenomenon and consequently, when HIV was addressed from the public health platform, it was addressed with an international and global approach. This means that an approach applied in one part of the world was also used by other countries after copying or slightly modifying.”

“And that approach was very negative towards those living with HIV. You don’t see this about any other infection or disease in the world that it is spread as something scary and dreadful and therefore the initial messaging that was done for awareness was also very frightening,” he added.

“If you remember PTV’s initial messaging on this, you’d recall a dark screen and a man’s voice in a frightening-toned. It’s true that the initial spread especially in the west was because of unprotected sex. However, this wasn’t the case in Pakistan. Predominately in Pakistan it’s spread among the impoverished neighbourhoods and communities especially the ones that are completely socially marginalised and cut off from any healthcare access. This is why the key population we looked at is people who inject drugs. Its prevalence among the heterosexual women even the sexually active ones is so low that it’s not even considered as a key population in mainstream health movements. However because of the stigmatised, dark and negative messaging, HIV is still used as a curse word against women.”

He went on to say that “I also want to say that the stigmatisation is not just in Pakistan or eastern countries. Even in the US, up until Obama became president, immigrants with HIV could be deported. This was not seen with any other condition or infection.”

As Marvi said, one can contract HIV in completely non-sexual manner as well. And it does not mean a death sentence. In fact, most people living with HIV live normal healthy lives for the most parts using modern treatments and medicines that are able to suppress the infection. Not to mention scientists are working day and night to find the cure which many believe is already in sight.

I wonder what would they use to stigmatise the dissidents then? Might as well label them aliens.