In the past decade, new HIV infection rates in Eastern Europe and Central Asia (EECA) have almost doubled. while it is decreasing worldwide. More than 1.6 million people live with HIV in Eastern Europe and Central Asia and more than 380 people are newly diagnosed every day. The numbers buck the trend in other parts of the world and prompted the United Nations Joint Program on HIV / AIDS (UNAIDS) – the organization leading efforts to end AIDS by 2030 – to warn this summer that the epidemic was breaking out got out of control in EECA.
However, community leaders from grassroots EECA organizations are optimistic that their work will help halt the regional epidemic and bring them one step closer to UNAIDS ‘goal of ending HIV as a public health threat over the next nine years.
The leaders of the HIV community at EECA share their personal stories to help raise awareness about HIV and the key challenges fueling the epidemic in the region, particularly stigma and discrimination related to HIV and AIDS.
They are all part of the Changemaker Campaign by Radian – a partnership between the Elton John AIDS Foundation and Gilead Sciences highlighting the work of these inspiring personalities.
Lyubov, a 36-year-old mother and community activist from Kazakhstan, has lived with HIV for 17 years and knows the importance of talking about your HIV status.
She works and lives in Almaty – Radian’s first model city, a program that funds the development of strategic city-wide HIV services.
Lyubov, who works for an organization that campaigns for the rights of people living with HIV locally, says: “I am one of the few who feel able to speak openly about my HIV status. I think this can be extremely effective when we conduct [HIV awareness] Training with doctors, police and the community – it is very important to them to see a personal example. “
With Radian’s help, her organization has expanded its HIV education program, which includes medical education programs for clinicians on both the medical and social aspects of living with HIV and how they affect people at risk – men who have sex with men ( MSM), sex workers, transgender people and drug users.
The biggest challenge in Almaty – where HIV prevalence has increased in the MSM community 442% since 2013 – aims to reduce the stigma associated with HIV, which, according to Svyatoslav, a Radian changemaker and head of Community Friends who provide direct care services to people living with, is a barrier to access to testing and other services for at-risk groups. HIV in Kazakhstan.
With support from Radian, his organization is using social media to reach more vulnerable communities as part of its broader HIV prevention, testing and treatment program. “When I see the light in people’s eyes and hear testimonies of appreciation, this radiant energy gives us the strength to do what we do,” he says.
Elena, whose organization also supports people living with HIV in the city, says investments from Radian and others are slowly pushing back the epidemic. “The growth in new infections is slowing,” says Elena, whose HIV diagnosis 25 years ago was the key factor behind her decision to help others in a similar situation.
Diagnosing people with HIV and linking them to treatment and care is “the biggest gap in the world [EECA] Treatment efforts in the region, ”said UNAIDS To analyse the region in their global AIDS update report published in July.
Vera, based in Yekaterinburg, Russia, hopes her organization will help fill this void. Starting on a small scale, her organization offers people with HIV peer support, today it offers direct services and, in addition to exhibitions on HIV prevention, organizes awareness-raising events. And with support from Radian, it has partnered with the local AIDS center to reach people with HIV who have dropped out of care and help them get them back into care services.
Vera is optimistic that her organization will do her part to help the Sverdlovsk Region and Russia as a whole achieve the UNAIDS goal. “It has become a lifelong project,” she says. “I feel obliged to do what I do because every life saved counts.”
Alexey also hopes that there will be a change for people living with HIV in Russia who use drugs or have recently been released from prison. His organization in Chelyabinsk aims to give many people in important sections of the population the first access to treatment or to remain in treatment after their release from prison. “It’s not an easy task, but we are ambitious,” he says.
Radian’s support has helped expand HIV prevention and care services in the area. Alexey’s organization also recently launched free on-site HIV testing and counseling for people in hospital emergency or casualty departments. “Our work has a direct impact,” says Alexey. “Three years ago, the Chelyabinsk region in Russia was in fifth place in terms of HIV prevalence – today it is in seventh place … and we made a small contribution to that.”
One of the most marginalized groups and one of the most vulnerable to HIV is the trans community. According to the World health organization, transsexuals are 13 times more likely to live with HIV than the cis adult population.
Tony, a social worker who identifies as gender neutral, is a Radian changemaker who uses his voice to help this marginalized group in Tbilisi and across Georgia.
Tony was the co-founder of Temida, which is part of. is Trans*-Carte, an initiative – supported by Radian – that mobilizes communities and generates strategic intelligence to encourage governments to fund sensitive and sustainable HIV services for trans people in EECA. (The asterisk at the end of trans expands the term to include a range of communities and individuals with mismatched gender identities.)
Temida has established “leadership schools” to build the skills and knowledge of people in the trans community and help them access their right to health services. The project also works with health professionals to promote tailored and sensitized care to the needs of transgender people. “In areas like these, I hope a lot will change in the next 10 years,” says Tony.
Changing the lives of people with HIV is what drives these inspiring changemakers – despite all the obstacles.
But the clock is ticking and altruism alone is not enough if the EECA and the whole world are to eradicate HIV / AIDS as a public health threat by 2030.
With the HIV epidemic nearing its 41st year, it is clear that control of the virus is within our grasp. And it is the work of these changemakers and others around the world whose small but significant steps will bring the world closer to this goal of eradicating HIV / AIDS by 2030.
For more information and to learn more about Radian Changemakers, visit radianhiv.org
IHQ-UNB-1121 | December 2021