Twenty-five years-old Shafqat never thought he would reach this age. Now, as long as he can continue his anti-retroviral treatment (ART), he believes he has every chance of getting a good job, having a family and succeeding in life. Like many young people of his age in the town, watching cricket matches brings enjoyment and leisure to him and if it is with a group of friends then it is not less than an Eid (a religious festival which marks happiness) for him and he dreams of becoming a cricketer. But Shafqat sporting hopes died not as a natural result of the standard passage to adulthood, but because at the age of 17 he found out that he was HIV positive. He made the discovery after being admitted to a local hospital due to sudden illness and physical deterioration. Sooner than later he could feel that the nurse and other Para medic’s staff shows some hesitation while having a routine check up for him. Unlike dealing with other patients in the medical ward the staff uses gloves and face mask when closer to him. It was a kind of discrimination with me which I could feel very clearly, Shafqat states. Soon he had an interaction with a counselor who bluntly told him that he has been diagnosed as HIV+. I was literally shocked and thought it would be end of my life. On a query Shafqat stated that probably he contracted the virus at the age of 17, when he visited a clinic in upper parts of Punjab province for vaccination and treatment for diarrhea. The nurse used the same needle, a common practice in that city, which accordingly to Shafqat still exists.  He was taken to hospital only when his health began to decline visibly.  “I was completely, completely shocked. I had no information about HIV but just a few things here and there,” he remembers. At age of 17, diagnosed with HIV, life was hard without traditional family support, but I struggled to cope. “I was extremely depressed. I had wanted very much to become a professional cricketer, but this health deterioration meant I could no longer achieve this goal and dream. Every time I watched a major match, I would be overcome by depression.” Soon I started using drugs to get a peace of mind, but never injected drugs, replied Shafqat to a question of mine.  I never thought that I would reach this age,” says Shafqat. “I did not think that I could have a future. But soon he realized that others had even worse. “I thought, if I feel like this, how must other individuals felt who were thrown out of their communities? I would hear lot of stories; for example, that a certain HIV positive individual was thrown out of his home and area/ community, people did not allow him/them to take food together or have normal activities for fear that he/she might infect others. I heard that people were thrown out of schools and so on…” soon I was prescribed the ARTs and started medication.

“Before being prescribed with ARTs, I was a person who did not know what to do with my life; I had no plans for future. But getting on ARTs changed my life to a great extent. The treatment turnaround my life dramatically. Though my health improved a lot with use of ARTs but mentally I was much depressed. Soon I could know about the APLHIV through social media and I contacted the APLHIV through helpline services. This contact gave me new friends and colleagues, who brought a positive change in my thoughts through counseling and regular meetings. Now not only I am adherent to treatment and mentally set, physically fit but also now working in a private organization as a cashier and also have volunteered myself for any task in the APLHIV, says Shafqat. And I am optimistic about my future too. I have got admission for higher studies as well “I know that as long as I continue the treatment, I have every chance of succeeding in life, having a family for myself and finishing my studies and getting a better job.” Thanks to the APLHIV for all the support…continues Shafqat.

It’s an inspiring story – but the happy ending could be in doubt. Shafqat has been told by the colleagues in the APLHIV that funding for the treatment (ART) could be jeopardized after 2015. He calls on the decision makers to draw on their “values and hearts” and not throw away decades of work in the country to establish HIV and AIDS treatment and treatment centers in a couple of months. The thought is too much for Shafqat to bear: “I do not know what I would do now, if I were to go to the doctor and have them say that they no longer have treatment for me. I think it would destroy me completely.”

Instead, he prefers to focus on the progress he has made. “I really did not believe that I would reach this age and this state of well-being: I feel okay, no-one can tell that I am affected or infected by something such as HIV. I work; I go to university in evening, I learn, I do “normal” things as much as possible. Perhaps I do things that an individual with no health problems whatsoever does.”

He may no longer dream of playing cricket, but his ambitions will perhaps be more of an achievement.