Imagine that your father went to Saudi Arabia as a migrant laborer, and was deported as soon as the Saudi government tested him positive for HIV. Imagine your father coming back, getting married, and never once discussing his disease with anyone. Imagine that you have never been able to play tag because you don’t have the energy to run.
Imagine all this, and imagine that you almost died of lymph node flu when you were two, and that is when everyone in your family was diagnosed with AIDS. Imagine that you are four now, and your father now knows that all your siblings could have been AIDS free, if proper retro-viral medication had been provided to you while your infected mom was pregnant with you.
Now imagine that all this is real, for it is real for more than you can imagine. I spent this Sunday with Shimul and her two siblings and mother, as they spoke to me in hushed whispers, so as to prevent the knowledge about their infection being spread to relatives who refuse to understand the plight is not one that they chose.
Every Bangladeshi living in Bangladesh today will hear from our politicians about how much the country has progressed. After all, it is Bangladesh’s Independence Day today. What is also shocking is that between 4000 to 5000 migrant workers have been slated to die in the Qatar 2022 World Cup, before a ball will ever even be kicked. A study conducted by the International Trade Union Confederation suggests that most of these deaths will be related to stress and heart conditions, but the fact remains that the health screening of workers returning back to Bangladesh from the middle east is so poor, that the transmission of HIV will be widely under-circulated in national and international research circles. This is the biggest failure in protecting our children that the country’s leaders could commit.
Hence, all I ask is this: While you’re eating your fish and singing the national anthem, I hope you will also remember little four year old Shimul, who has at best, four more years to live. You should know that somewhere in the bureaucratic and corrupt mess of our country’s diplomatic failures with foreign nations, the Bangladeshi government receives a roster of HIV infected people every year, not just from hospitals, but from foreign companies making deportations of menial laborers back to the motherland.
Most of all, imagine a Bangladesh with accountability and transparency- without which any scope of real independence is but a sham of the war of corruption on the streets.
Remember Shimul, and remember, her HIV infection was VERY preventable. She exists, as much as the other 562 affected with HIV since 2003, and almost 200 dead, in Sylhet alone, since then. Also note this: only four cases of those infected in Sylhet with HIV are sex workers, and only three more are homosexuals. The problem, hence, is bigger than we think.
Let’s ask what we really have accomplished, when we allow our government to continue, unelected, ruining the future of our most disenfranchised, whilst celebrating our freedom. Let’s get the facts on HIV, and let’s inform those who do not have the education or the knowledge to know that they can prevent this deadly disease from spreading.
Happy Bangladeshi Independence Day, everyone.