Monday, June 18, 2007

Family the rock in his HIV crisis

NST: SUNGAI SIPUT: When he tested positive for HIV, Muhammad Zulkifli Maulana dreaded telling his family.
HIV-positive friends had told him of the stigma — of their own families forcing them to use separate utensils at meals and being made to wash and rewash their clothes.
Fearing rejection, it took a year before the former drug addict, 28, told his elder sister, Suraya.
"How wrong I was," he said.
She took the news calmly, and was very understanding.
"She even kept the secret to herself, allowing me time and space to breathe, before breaking the bad news to the rest of my family."
A guest speaker at the Perak Red Ribbon AIDS Day Remembrance here yesterday, Zulkifli now works full time as a clinical staff at Rumah Pengasih, Kuala Lumpur.
The home is owned by Pengasih, an association of former drug addicts. It helps addicts to clean up and provides support to recovering addicts and rehabilitation programmes.
The event was launched by Perak Menteri Besar Datuk Seri Tajol Rosli Ghazali. Works Minister Datuk Seri S. Samy Vellu, who is the patron of the event, was also present.
Zulkifli urged people to learn about HIV/AIDS, and not to fear those who had it.
"I want to tell everyone that the HIV virus will not spread from using the same plate, or through handshakes, or hugs.
"Some people (still) think the HIV virus can be spread through mosquito bites!"
Zulkifli was 13 when he began smoking cannabis in Balik Pulau, Penang. Then he began shooting heroin.
"I was influenced by my peers. It is at this particular age that you seek an identity, from the way you dress to the things you do. You just crave attention.
"And this is when family support is most important."
He wised up at 16, and turned to Pengasih. He stayed with its programmes until he turned 18. After leaving Pengasih, he opened a motorcycle workshop.
In 2003, he relapsed, but found his way back to Pengasih once more.
That was the year he took the blood test. HIV had never crossed his mind, he said, so the doctor’s announcement came like a bombshell.
"I had already been stigmatised as a drug addict. Adding being HIV-positive to it was devastating."
He even considered just carrying on with drugs until he died.
Pengasih saw him through those dark days, teaching him that he needed to take responsibility for his actions.
"It was with their strong support that I finally decided to come clean."
Zulkifli urged parents to reach out to their children, especially those in their tumultuous teenage years who showed signs of being troubled. Smoking, drugs and drinking were just symptoms of a deeper problem, he said.

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