I returned to Pakistan, where my family are from, several times when I was growing up. On one of these trips, as a thirteen year old I got a fever and was taken to the doctor who gave me an injection. To this day, I don’t know what the injection was for, but was subsequently sent home to the UK where I made a full recovery.
More than 20 years later and now married with children of my own, I began to feel increasingly unwell. Usually gregarious and full of life, I was constantly exhausted and devoid of energy or enthusiasm for both life and work. My GP conducted a series of general tests but none of them were able to identify the root of the problem until after several visits and much persisting later, I was diagnosed with hepatitis C in early 2005.
After being diagnosed I was really upset. I instantly thought my life was going to come to an end. Also I did experience a lot of stigma from my community, but I never hid the fact that I had the virus.
I was lucky to be offered treatment soon after my diagnosis and within months had begun a six month course of daily pills and weekly injections. In November 2005, it was finally confirmed that the treatment had successfully treated the hepatitis C.
I now work to raise awareness of hepatitis C in South Asian communities. Working as a volunteer with the Trust initially, I helped Consultant Hepatologist, Professor Graham Foster of the Royal London Hospital to provide community testing in London and Bradford and worked on very successful national campaigns such as the ‘Face It’ campaign for the Department of Health (DoH). In November 2009, I took a part-time job working for The Hepatitis C Trust as their South Asian Officer.
Nine years after clearing the virus and feeling great, I have been working very hard with my colleagues at The Trust to educate and test people in all areas of the UK. I now attend Asian festivals and mosques on with The Hepatitis C Trust’s Testing Van as well as working on numerous national awareness campaign and projects to reach out to all kinds of minority, at risk groups of people.
It is vital that everyone is aware of this virus, regardless of their ethnicity. We find that people don’t talk openly about hepatitis C because there is a lot of stigma surrounding hepatitis, especially in the South Asian community. But alongside my colleagues at the Trust, I make every effort to overcome this barrier through information and education.