HIV: A challenge faced by all society
The Regional Human Development Report “Living with HIV in Eastern Europe and the CIS - the Human Cost of Social Exclusion”, produced by UNDP in collaboration with researchers from Oxford University and local social research institutes and organisations of people living with HIV, was presented in Ankara on 6 February 2009 at a meeting attended by the officials from the Ministry of Health, Ministry of Education, universities, related civil society organisations and the UN agencies in Turkey. The report was based on research conducted in Estonia, Georgia, Russia, Turkey, Ukraine and Uzbekistan.
At the meeting, there was clear agreement from both government and non-government voices on the urgent need to raise public awareness in relation to HIV and recognize the virus as a challenge faced by all of Turkish society, not one that only affects certain parts of the population. The research showed very high levels of stigma and discrimination against people living with HIV, which discourages them from seeking the medical services they may require and the educational and professional opportunities guaranteed to them under Turkish law. The findings show that some people living with HIV fear the stigma associated with the virus more than the health consequences of the virus itself. The report also found that some health care professionals refuse to treat people living with or assumed to have HIV, as they are not provided with the necessary equipment – such as latex gloves – with which to protect themselves.
UNDP Deputy Resident Representative Ulrika Richardson-Golinski, in her opening remarks, said that although the pace of new infections has been slowing globally during recent years, there are still increases in the number of people living with HIV.
In his presentation of the report, Dudley Tarlton, HIV/AIDS Policy Advisor of UNDP’s Regional Programme, said that more than 33 million people are living with HIV globally and two-thirds of the 1.6 million cases of HIV in Eastern Europe and Central Asia are found in Russia and Ukraine. One of the main goals of the report, he said, was to move beyond the numbers and understand the daily challenges faced by people living with HIV. He stressed that although prevalence rates are still generally low, the region has the fastest rising prevalence rates of any region in the world. Discrimination and the social exclusion of people living with HIV are undermining efforts to respond to AIDS.
Dr. Ercan Bal from the Ministry of Health announced at the meeting that the number of people officially registered as living with HIV in Turkey reached 3,307 at the end of 2008. Most of these are heterosexual men infected through sexual relations. The 350 new infections in 2008 are up dramatically from the 2007 total of 255.
The Turkish component of the research initiative was led by the Turkish Sociological Institute, which undertook in-depth interviews of people living with HIV and their families, as well as the institutions in the health, labour and education sectors that are on the frontlines of Turkey’s AIDS response. The Positive Living Association also provided support for the research. The launch was hosted by the United Nations Theme Group on HIV and included representatives from the Turkish Parliament, Ministry of Health, Ministry of Education, civil society organisations, universities and the United Nations.
The report concludes that rights limitations can fuel the spread of the epidemic and exacerbate the impact of HIV. Consequently, respecting people’s individual rights and improving the status of historically marginalized populations can lead to lower rates of HIV transmission, fewer health disparities in society, and improved socio-economic and human development outcomes.