Little Ariq looks the picture of health. One minute the youngster was chatting with a neighbour’s kid and cycling up and down the HDB corridor, the next he’s running around the living room, asking to be brought to the playground.
Like any happy child, he’s a bundle of energy. But Ariq has Aids, and as a baby, doctors gave him just five years to live.
Just like a normal kid
This year, Ariq turns five but he shows no sign of slowing down. “If he falls ill, he has to be admitted to hospital for observation,” says his adoptive mum Nooraini Abdul Rahim, 41, a speech and phonics teacher. “However, he hasn’t been warded since October 2003. There was even once last year when everybody in the family contracted flu except for him. It’s not like we have to take special precautions living with him. We just take multi-vitamins to make sure we don’t get sick easily.”
She adds: “He is just a normal kid, quite a little devil actually. Besides giving him his daily drugs – he takes two types of medication three times a day, and antibiotics twice a week – he doesn’t need special medical attention at all. He eats anything, except for raw foods like salads.”
Adopting an Aids baby
In October 2000, just after Nooraini and her husband Bani Buang, 41, a firefighter, decided to adopt a child, they heard good news from a relative: A baby, deserted by his Indonesian mother at KK Women’s and Children’s Hospital, was up for adoption.
The couple rushed to the hospital and saw a premature baby with adorable eyes. They adopted him and named him Ariq. But their elation was shortlived. Doctors discovered that he had full-blown Aids and gave him five years to live.
The couple were stunned but they couldn’t bear to give him up. The following months were the hardest in their lives. “It wasn’t easy for us when my husband and I made public our decision to adopt a child with full-blown Aids. Some family friends avoided us and refused to salam (the Muslim greeting) with us.”
Verbal abuse was hurled at them. Even friends asked repeatedly if she was afraid of taking care of him. But the experience made them realise who their true friends were.
Initially, they went public because they wanted to create awareness to future adoptive parents that they could be adopting a baby with Aids. “Our experience was a very heartbreaking one, from the joy of adopting a new baby to finding out that he had a terminal illness. But then we realised that we were also educating the public about Aids.”
Support of strangers
Today, the precocious five-year-old – who is the only public face for Aids in Singapore – can sense discrimination against him. He tells his mum that someone doesn’t like him as the person won’t smile at him or appears to be avoiding him. But things are improving. At functions, people were surprised to see a screaming child running around, and not a scrawny, sickly kid in a wheelchair, and realised that Aids patients can lead normal lives too.
Ariq gets VIP treatment from stallholders at Downtown East, strangers frequently come up to them to ask about his condition, and the Civil Aviation Authority of Singapore, where Bani works, is paying 40 per cent of the boy’s medical bills.
Still, despite the good that has come out of going public, Nooraini is sympathetic to other HIV and Aids sufferers. “Singaporeans have shown us a lot of warmth. But Ariq is just an innocent child. He has nothing to lose compared with a lot of Aids patients,” says Nooraini, who volunteers with Ampuh, an Aids support group for the Malay-Muslim community.
“With medication, HIV patients can live for 10 to 20 more years like a normal person. Why would they risk losing their jobs or being shunned by society? They die, not of Aids, but of heartbreak. Some live and die alone so their families won’t live in shame. “It will take time for the community to understand the illness better. I hope by the time Ariq grows older, Singaporeans will accept Aids patients like other human beings. And that family members of patients will not turn them away.”
One day at a time
Still, she can’t avoid the fact that Ariq is ill. “I wanted to send him to a nursery school last year, but decided against it. There’s no point sending him to school for one day if he ends up falling sick and has to stay home for a week.
“He is also developing a resistance to his current $515 double-cocktail drugs, so we’ll have to change his medication to a triple cocktail, which costs a lot more. I don’t dare to ask the doctor about his prognosis or an estimation of how long he’ll live. We live day to day.”
“He’s energetic and loves to play. On weekends, we take him to East Coast Park to cycle or Downtown East to eat his favourite satay and to shop for toys and VCDs.”
The couple’s parents dote on him dearly. Even more so his older brother, 14-year-old Thaqif, who released two albums in the past three years to promote awareness of Ariq’s illness.
“Of course the fact that Ariq could leave us is very real. Maybe it’s God’s will, but my family is still looking for hope. Ariq is a fighter. He gives us strength. Miracles do happen.”
This article was originally published in Simply Her Magazine January 2005 Issue.