|© UNICEF video|
|Youth HIV peer educators meeting in Tajikistan.|
By Anora Mahmudova
DUSHANBE, Tajikistan, 17 November 2005 – Once unknown among Tajikistan’s predominantly Muslim population, HIV/AIDS is spreading with increasing speed across this mountainous country. One of the main contributing factors is the mobility of much of the working population. Tajikistan’s parlous economic situation forces about 1 million, mostly male, adults to work in neighbouring countries. A mobile work force is associated with increased risks of exposure to the virus – true here and in Africa as well.
Tajik society, with its strong traditional values, is only slowly awakening to the dangers and scope of the disease. UNICEF has been working with local youth organizations in Dushanbe, the capital, to train peer educators in HIV prevention. Each group of trained educators in turn trains the next group. The programme has been growing over the past four years.
“I made it the purpose of my life to help my peers so that they never have to deal with this problem, so that the whole world is free of this handicap,” says 18-year-old Olia, one of the peer educators.
Messages from young people
Olia stresses the importance of tolerance for a healthy society. HIV-positive people often face stigma and discrimination here. Olia describes her experiences: “I was recently in Turkey and I met a girl who had the virus. She is also a peer educator and she wanted to help others while she had the time... These people are just like us, except that they have the virus inside them. We should treat them equally.”
Matluba, 17, is also a peer educator, and has a special message: “I would ask HIV-positive people to tell others who don’t know about the virus. I think people would understand it better if they see the feelings in the eyes of the infected person.”
Young people like Olia and Matluba are at the forefront of the effort to raise awareness in Tajikistan about HIV/AIDS, and to stop the rising tide of infection before it gets out of control.
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