Teenage HIV/AIDS activist uses his skill to speak in the name of others in Romania
Diagnosed with HIV when he was a baby, 19-year-old Cristian Traicu describes himself as a fighter.
I am happy to be alive, he says, knowing that close to one-third of the children in Romania diagnosed with HIV around the same time he was have since died.
But he didn’t give himself this title because he takes 11 pills a day, exercises and tries to think positively. The fight to which Cristian refers takes place on the streets of his native Bucharest, where he teaches young people about HIV and AIDS.
Since 2001, “The Fighters,” a network of young people Cristian founded, have taken to the streets to teach peers about HIV and AIDS, how it is transmitted and how it can be prevented. For those who are HIV-positive, the group does more than that – they teach them about their rights and how to defend them.
“I discovered I have this skill. I can speak in the name of others who are also HIV-positive,” Cristian explains.
With UNICEF’s support, Cristian and many of his peers have been trained on how to talk to the media, develop campaigns to fight discrimination and stigma, and advocate for the rights of young people living with HIV.
Knowing their rights and responsibilities helps young people living with HIV fight the stigma they encounter in their daily lives, Cristian says. “Lack of information leads to discrimination. We tell people that we know how to protect ourselves and those people around us from being infected with HIV.”
“We go out to the streets and inform other young people like us about HIV and AIDS,” says Cristian. “We tell them that we are not posing any danger to people around us.”
Reaching out to youth on the streets is a particularly vital component of AIDS prevention. Typically, those who are out of school do not have access to information on health and sex education, and are at greater risk of exposure to illegal drug use and unprotected sex. The Fighters’ actions also complement UNICEF’s HIV/AIDS prevention work taking place in Romania’s schools.
Representing the youth sector of a national network called National Union of Organizations of People Living with HIV and AIDS (UNOPA), The Fighters now boast 30 active members from various parts of the country, and they are planning to expand their network to the national level.
“UNOPA was born out of the desire of parents with HIV-positive children to protect the rights of their children from discrimination and stigmatization,” explains UNICEF Romania Health and Nutrition Project Coordinator Tania Goldner. “These children have grown up and are now able to speak and fight for their rights.