Awareness v Discrimination: NGOs mark World AIDS Day in Armenia

A low level of tolerance in society is a major obstacle to the prevention of HIV/AIDS as people in vulnerable groups feel the fear of becoming ostracized, according to nongovernmental organizations dealing with related issues.

December 1 is observed as World AIDS Day. A number of NGOs engaged in preventing the spread of the disease in Armenia are planning a march in Yerevan today “to break the indifference and discrimination” towards people living with HIV/AIDS.

One of the organizers is the Armenian Network of Positive People. Its chairperson Anahit Harutyunyan says the number of people living with HIV/AIDS in Armenia is growing and the efficiency of preventive measures is not, since the issue gets public attention only on December 1 each year.

“How many more people should get infected for us to admit that this is a pressing issue?” says Harutyunyan.

The first HIV/AIDS cases were registered in Armenia in 1988. According to the data for 2009, there are 808 people with HIV/AIDS in Armenia today. More than 200 of those patients were registered in the past two years.

The number of new reported cases in 2007 and 2008 was 109 and 118, respectively. The Republican HIV/AIDS Prevention Center estimates, however, that the number of people with HIV/AIDS in Armenia could be as high as 2,800.

“Real World, Real People” NGO head Hovhannes Madoyan estimates that the number of officially reported cases has increased in the recent period because people leaving for migrant work in Russia are now required to pass a medical test for HIV/AIDS.

“HIV/AIDS treatment is available in Armenia, but its availability for high-risk groups is not provided. I don’t think the motto ‘Availability for all’, by which the world will be guided in the coming year can be translated into action in Armenia,” says Madoyan.

(Prostitutes, intravenous drug users, homosexuals, are traditionally considered to be HIV/AIDS risk groups.)

Almost 60 percent of people with HIV/AIDS in Armenia are aged between 25 and 39 and the main transmission mode is intercourse between heterosexuals (49 percent) and injection drug use (44 percent). Forty-six percent of HIV/AIDS cases in Armenia are registered Yerevan.

According to Madoyan, not all apply for antiretroviral treatment applied in Armenia, which is free and can prolong a person’s life by 20-30 years. This, she says, is because “there is a negative attitude in society”, for instance, towards drug users or those offering sex services.

“The problem is that any person here, before being diagnosed as having HIV/AIDS, himself/herself displayed such discriminative attitudes,” says Madoyan.

“Need for Public Awareness and Knowledge” NGO head Mamikon Hovsepyan is convinced that with its discriminative approach the society only promotes the further spread of the disease.

Specialists say that even students and young people in Armenia have little knowledge about the disease and the way it is transmitted.

Vardges Soghoyan, chairman of the “Student Forum of Armenia” NGO, stresses that they are joining the march in order to raise the awareness among students. “Students even do not clearly know what they are combating,” he says.