Chase Virus, not People campaign presented in Amsterdam
“Chase the Virus, not People!” campaign was presented in the capital of Netherlands, within the framework of XXII International Conference on AIDS (AIDS2018). The campaign united representatives of regional networks of the Eastern Europe and Central Asia.
“The unique joint campaign “Chase Virus, not People!” is aimed to draw the attention of the global society to stigmatization and discrimination of key affected populations as the main barriers to effective HIV response in the EECA region. 9 regional community networks and partners are united by common goals and a slogan”, emphasized Anna Dovbakh, Executive Director of the Eurasian Harm Reduction Association.
Discrimination of all age groups in the EECA region – from people aging with HIV to positive teens
“Now the EECA voice should sound very loud, as never before, because our countries need comprehensive support in the fight against the epidemic, as well as the political will to reform the state policy of the countries of the region”, said Wojciech E. Tomczynski, Co-Chairman of the ECUO, at a press conference. – That’s why the regional networks of the EECA state: ” Chase Virus, not People!”. We need to overcome the discrimination of key populations: people living with HIV, PWUD, MSM, trans people, sex workers, adolescents and children, and people who are aging with HIV”.
When the region reaches zero discrimination and overcomes stigmatization, governments will show the political will to change attitudes towards target groups, and communities and international partners will take joint vigorous actions, then we will be able to expect better access to services and, consequently, the improved quality of life not only of key groups, but everyone without exceptions, Wojciech E. Tomczynski is convinced.
The voice of the younger generation is equally important in overcoming stigma and discrimination. The lack of services and funding for adolescents living or affected by HIV in EECA countries is a significant problem.
“You need to hear the voice of adolescents living with HIV”, says Dany Stolbunov, Teenergizer activist.
ECA women are affected by violence
Women in the EECA region also need help and support. Yuliya Godunova, EWNA Board member, told about the facts of violation of women’s rights in health facilities. Most women learned about their HIV status during pregnancy and childbirth, and HIV is still a contraindication for the use of assisted reproductive technologies, such as in vitro fertilization.
“We appeal to the government and other key stakeholders, organizations and policy makers, calling to recognize that sexual and reproductive health includes safe and voluntary abortions based on women’s rights to antenatal and postnatal care programs and the prevention of vertical transmission of HIV; invest in research based on the women’s community, which will explore the issue of access of women affected by a number of different types of discrimination to health services, especially in the context of sexual and reproductive health and rights; provide sexual and reproductive health services in accordance with international standards and the latest recommendations of WHO”, said Yuliya Godunova.
Sex workers for decriminalization
In most EECA countries, sex work still is considered a criminal offense or is punishable in a different way. Thus, stigma and discrimination allow opportunities for serious human rights violations against sex workers and affect their health and well-being.
“We use this chance to encourage our governments, ministries of health, the Ministry of Justice, the Ministry of the Interior to decriminalize sex work”, said Marina Avramenko, the SWAN Chair of the Board. – “We intend to involve sex workers as partners in reforming laws on sex work. We call to eliminate any regulations establishing mandatory testing of sex workers for HIV or STIs and ensure that all health measures aimed at sex workers respect their human rights and maintain their control over working conditions. We call to recognize the significant benefits of sex workers’ engagement in health programs, from peer education, participation in programming and ensuring that sex workers know and use feedback mechanisms to improve the program”.
Homophobia against HIV prevention
Homophobia remains a key obstacle to preventing the HIV epidemic among MSM. “Just as in the second half of the 1990s an explosive epidemic of HIV broke out among the PWUD in the EECA, now, 20 years later, we are observing almost helplessly the ever-accelerating development of the epidemic among gay men and other MSM”, said Vitaliy Dzhuma, ECOM Executive Director. The main reason is the criminalization and stigmatization of LGBT people. Two countries in the region continue to criminalize same-sex relationships. In other countries of the region, severe homophobia persists. Gay men do not use prevention services, do not get tested, do not know about their status, are not treated. This key population is ignored in the development of national HIV strategies and epidemic response budgeting.
Prison instead of treatment and care for PWUD in the EECA region
Treatment and resocialization of people who use drugs will entail much lower costs for the government than keeping them in custody. However, not all governments in the EECA region understand and accept this fact. As a result, the PWUD are the driving force behind the HIV epidemic, especially in the Russian Federation.
“Most prisoners in the region are kept in the facilities where there is access to drugs”, said Anna Dovbakh, EHRA Executive Director. “Their persecution and detention in the penitentiary institutions costs 3-5 times more than a comprehensive package of harm reduction, treatment and resocialization”.
EECA Campaign is showcased everywhere at the AIDS 2018 Conference
“Chase The Virus, Not People!” campaign comprises a number of actions to be held during the entire span of the AIDS 2018.
The goal of the “Chase The Virus, Not People!” Campaign is to demonstrate to the whole world the impact of repressive, discriminatory laws and practices of their application, as well as stigma against key populations and people living with HIV. The campaign aims to secure commitments of creating an enabling legal environment and to involve key populations and people living with HIV in decision-making processes. We are ready to show the negative consequences of the reduction in international support and to seek global assistance to mobilize resources to stabilize the HIV/AIDS epidemic in the EECA region. More than 100 organizations all over the world already supported the campaign.