Project for young people with HIV
Most HIV sufferers in Russia hide their illness from
The international young people’s movement dance4life
is again preparing themed promotional events in dozens of Russia’s regions to
raise people’s awareness of the importance of HIV prevention in view of the
World AIDS Day on 1 December. Tatiana Yevlampieva, dance4life Project Director
of the Russian Fund for Social Development and Health ‘Focus-Media’, tells us
about the planned events and reaching out to the young people to highlight the
consequences of contracting HIV.
Correspondent: Do you consider HIV to be the curse of
TE: On one hand, the HIV epidemic is a
global tragedy, as a great number of people have been affected by it. On the
other hand, this is a good example of how quickly the scientific community
responded to this issue. Overall, the epidemic has been in existence for just
over 30 years. We now know what causes it, how it is transmitted and, most
importantly, what to do to prevent contracting it. People around the world
today have a good understanding of how to stop the epidemic: everyone knows how
it is transmitted, and how to protect oneself, and undergo tests for it. In
addition, it is important to ensure HIV sufferers are not discriminated
Correspondent: Will these world practices underpin
dance4life events on 1 December?
TE.: Yes, our work towards 1 December will
focus on raising people’s awareness of HIV and why it is in all our interests
to stop the epidemic as soon as possible. We are going to talk about how
tolerance towards HIV sufferers will help stop the virus spreading. We dedicate
all our time towards prevention, but 1 December for us is an excellent cause to
raise even greater awareness of the issue. Last year, dance4life together with
regional healthcare departments and local HIV centres offered people an
opportunity to undergo HIV testing in 22 regions of the Russian Federation
stressing the importance of testing. No-one can be forced to undergo a test,
the decision lies with the person. It does not do to force people to go for
tests, as even if they do, they do not necessarily go back to find out the
results. That is why our teams try to find a way to motivate people to complete
medical tests in each region. There is another way to offer testing – which we
know works, but is technically difficult to organise: mobile HIV testing units.
If we take on the task to motivate people to go in for tests, then the
technical side of things should be organised by regional AIDS centres, and they
cannot always do that. Difficult as our task may be, last year we motivated
around 2 500 people to undergo HIV testing.
Correspondent: Tatiana, could you tell us about the
photo gallery project to help HIV sufferers?
ТЕ.: We thought about the fact that a vast
number of HIV sufferers in our country are isolated from the rest of society;
they are unable to share their burden with close family… So we decided to
show solidarity with the sufferers, help them, and this is how this project
came into being. Through this project involving photographs of people holding message-boards,
dance4life volunteers and coordinators could reach out to those affected by
HIV. We are going to disseminate these photo materials through social
networking groups on 1 December.
Correspondent: The AIDS Federal Centre database has
around 700,000 registered HIV cases to date. Do these numbers reflect the real
speed with which the virus is spreading?
ТЕ.: Unfortunately, these numbers not not
reflect the real dynamics. If you compare the number of people who undergo
tests annually, and the number of identified HIV cases, despite the fact that
the number of the former is decreasing, the number of the latter is increasing.
This tells us about the speed with which the virus is spreading. The government
policy on fighting HIV, unfortunately, lacks a comprehensive and systematic
approach: as previously, vulnerable people are not tested as much as they
should be, and the budget earmarked for HIV prevention every year is directed
to various target groups, which does not ensure the continuity required to
control the epidemic. These disjointed measures to fight HIV do not help curb
the epidemic. We can’t even measure the scale correctly…
Correspondent: Which groups are at most risk of HIV?
Is it teenagers, as before?
ТЕ.: The statistics indicate that there is
no single age- or social group unaffected by HIV. HIV sufferers include people
of various ages and sexuality, pregnant women, drug users… because we haven’t
been able to get the epidemic under control, it’s spreading ‘in all
directions’. The only positive solid trend is the reduction in the numbers of
HIV infected teenagers.
Correspondent: Your words are echoed by the data from
the Moscow Centre for AIDS Prevention. In the last 13 years, the levels of
infection among 15-20 year-olds have reduced by a factor of 20. Is this related
to enhanced awareness in schools?
ТЕ.: Representatives of the Moscow Centre
for AIDS Prevention are attributing the success of the decline in number of
HIV-infected teenagers to lessons on sexual awareness, with emphasis on
abstaining from sexual relations before marriage, and monogamy. But the Federal
AIDS Centre states the school programmes haven’t yielded the expected results.
This is due to the fact that people start experimenting with intravenous drugs
at an older age now (18). Previously, it was not unusual for people as young as
12-14 to use IV drugs, but now the threshold has moved. Because of this, young
people are contracting the virus through sexual contact as before, except we
don’t find out about it until they are older.
Correspondent: So, if the school programmes don’t
work, how are we going to raise awareness and spread information on preventive
measures among young people? What methodology does your project use to reach
out to young people?
ТЕ.: We at dance4life believe that we have
to involve young people in the process of disseminating information on
preventive measures to achieve maximum inclusion and remove barriers to
communication. We also believe that adults should not be making decisions
related to HIV protection on behalf of young people, for example not informing
them about condoms as a form of protection. We look for ways to make health
discussions acceptable and appropriate for young people. To do this, we rely on
youth culture: social networks, role models like the rappers Noize Mc and Basta
(Баста), who have talked about HIV protection; and dance4life goodwill
ambassadors DJ Feel and Jukebox Trio.
We believe that the involvement in fighting HIV gives
young people an opportunity to become active members of society.
Correspondent: One of the aspects of your work is
inclusion. How do you go about it?
ТЕ.: It is dangerous for society to
discriminate against those affected by HIV. People are so scared their results
would show they are HIV-positive that they are unwilling to go for tests and
treatment, as it involves admitting their illness to others. This creates
pre-conditions for the virus to spread. It is a known fact that tolerance
towards HIV sufferers is built on the knowledge of the condition. So when we
tell people about this illness, we create pre-conditions for people not to feel
isolated. We realise that knowledge itself is not enough and it is also
necessary to speak to HIV sufferers, so we arrange meetings for the public to
meet with those affected.
Correspondent: So what was the feedback from young
people about these meetings?
ТЕ.: Very positive. Overall, young people are
very impressionable, they are happy to offer understanding and support. With
adults, it’s a different story. They are scared of the epidemic, they don’t understand how to deal with it and
the very subject of HIV poses a threat to them. So, until adults start to view
this issue differently, we will not be able to stop the virus spreading among
young people and adults alike…