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For residents of Mogadishu, HIV positive neighbours remain a phenomenon to them since most believe that Muslims are immune to the disease. These and other myths have created a great deal of challenges for the HIV positive population who cannot disclose their status to the public.
To stem the adverse effects of the disease coupled with myths and misconceptions, the South Central Somalia people living with HIV/Aids network (SCSPN) was established three years ago in Merca town of Lower Shabelle. The volunteer outfit aims to assist HIV positive Somalis by supplying them with vital medication, care and treatment. Members of the network receive drugs supplies in the suburbs of Mogadishu where they have set up a centre.
Mohamed Said Shire is HIV positive and the founder of this network.
He told Somalia Report how they established the network and the stages or phases they went through.
"In the year 2006 I decided to assist the HIV and Aids victims, since I also suffer from the disease. I started in the town of Merca. I was then supported by local Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs) and that was how I assisted those who were suffering. Towards the end of the year 2009, we launched the organization in Mogadishu with 45 members."
Abdirahman Ibrahim, the director of the organization who also spoke to Somalia Report said that even though convincing people that they could live positively with the disease was a challenge, they managed to encourage a lot of people to benefit from the program and now they have registered 672 people who live in central and southern Somalia.
"We assist both women and men and we sensitize them through seminars. We have centers in Mogadishu and Merca where they can get the drugs that sustain them," said the director.
The network (SCSPN) voluntarily plans and implements awareness creation programs to encourage HIV positive individuals with minimal or no support from aid agencies.
Recently, when suicide bombings increased in Mogadishu, some rumours emerged that those who detonate themselves are HIV positive people who are convinced to do so by al-Shabaab. This was greatly condemned by the network which supports HIV positive people who feared being discriminated against. The network operates inside al-Shabaab controlled areas and faces a lot of challenges due to the strict rules by insurgent leaders.
"People believe that they will die if they get infected with the disease. I have been living with this disease for ten years, and you can see that I am still alive," Ali Abdi Mohamed who is one of the victims told Somalia Report.
Aziza who is among the women living with HIV/Aids told Somalia Report how she got infected.
"I got married to a man who was HIV positive but I did not know. After a couple of months he became sick and told me that he was suffering from HIV. He asked me to forgive him and he succumbed to the disease and died. I migrated to Yemen and married another man. I gave birth to a boy, however my son and I were both found to be HIV positive."
Aziza and her son live in Mogadishu. She recently travelled to Nairobi, Kenya for further treatment after she received some contributions from her friends and family members.
“Sometimes i feel sad when I recall the kind of disease that I am suffering from," she said.
Most of the HIV positive residents in Mogadishu who spoke to Somalia Report say they are not willing to get married to uninfected individuals so as to stem the spread of the virus.
According to the director of the network, HIV positive people do not get any support from the ministry of health and the government of Somalia who have an obligation to protect and support them. But they pointed out that there are doctors who support them with medication and treatment and among them is Dr. Mohamed Mohamud Duffle.
Somali society is polygamous with a fairly high occurrence of divorce and remarriage. Despite this, the existence of the HIV/Aids is still denied since the condition is associated with promiscuity, and the Somali society is reluctant to address issues related to sexuality. Stigma and denial are common and families abandon their relatives once they know they are infected.
During the early years, several cases were identified and referred to Merca hospital for treatment, but none of the patients ever reached the hospital. In a conservative Somali society, many prefer to remain silent rather than seek treatment and social support despite the danger that this decision poses to their lives.