Blame and Banishment
The story of the HIV epidemic in Eastern Europe and Central Asia is one of courage and commitment, but also of blame and banishment. Too often, those living with HIV have been silenced and excluded, and risky behaviours borne of futility and hopelessness have been sanctioned or repressed. As in other parts of the world, the shame and fear associated with AIDS have led to discrimination and denial, sometimes extreme. Evidence has been repressed, misconceptions rationalized, and the distress of those affected by HIV ignored. Although valuable national and local responses to HIV have been mounted, effective HIV treatment and prevention programmes have largely failed to reach those who are most vulnerable, in particular young people. The insidious consequence of this has been a hidden epidemic which disproportionately strikes young people, adolescents and children.
The central challenge of responding to HIV in most countries of the region is the need to come to terms with an epidemic that mostly affects people deemed by society to be delinquent or anti-social. Every day, children and young people engage in behaviours that put them at risk of HIV infection. In some cases, peer pressure, curiosity or just the natural recklessness of their age leads them to experiment with drugs or sexuality without thinking of the consequences. But many have been driven to the edge by social, economic and family problems. Few educational and employment opportunities, as well as weakening family and social support structures, have led to disillusionment and defiance in many young people, often expressed via increased risk-taking behaviour. Whatever the reasons, effective solutions cannot rest on social condemnation and exclusion.
Hope for the future lies in new models of integrated services for women, children and young people that are being developed by both civil society organizations and governments. Based on principles of respect and understanding, and focused on reducing risk and harm, these new service approaches are essential if children, young people and adults are to avoid being infected and if those living with HIV are to receive the support and care they need.
Care and compassion, not blame and banishment, must dictate how the realities of affected children and young people are addressed. Without greater solidarity and social acceptance, their suffering, often perceived as self-inflicted, falls into the moral gap between what is simply acknowledged and what constitutes an imperative to act.
This report is about changing that.
Human Interest Stories:
Armand Learns to Break the Cycle
Tamara: Hiding Her Status for the Sake of Her Son
Various Parents: Learning to Live with a “Plus” on Your Record