|© UNICEF Uzbekistan/2009/Taylor|
|Thanks to UNICEF’s work in Uzbekistan, Roma community members now know the dangers of HIV and actively seek medical advice.|
By Matthew Taylor
TASHKENT, Uzbekistan, 20 May 2009 – Yurunatuz is a Roma community in Margilan, Uzbekistan. Intravenous drug use is an issue here, as is lack of education about HIV. Out of a population of 810, 10 people recently died of AIDS.
Halida, a UNICEF-trained outreach worker, is actively helping the community to prevent HIV/AIDS. She dreams that Yurunatuz's residents will one day openly address HIV and put an end to intravenous drug use. She works for Clinic Number Four and recently received UNICEF-sponsored outreach training. The Roma once went to traditional healers to cure their ills. Now, they go to her.
“They’re a tight-knit bunch and they trust me now, on their own and as a group,” she says.
'Partners in life quality'
Yurunatuz is one community among many in five regions that are receiving support from the UNICEF-assisted non-governmental organization ‘Hayot Sifati Hamrohi’ (which means ‘partners in life quality’). The NGO helps people like Halida to raise awareness about HIV and change behaviour that will stop its spread.
UNICEF is also working throughout the country to combat recent outbreaks of HIV that are believed to have been the result of unsanitary medical practices. It has sent medial equipment to the eastern Uzbek province of Namangan.
Equipment is also en route to neighbouring Andijian province.
The new equipment – including single-use medical kits that reduce the risk of accidental HIV transmission – is part of UNICEF’s immediate response in support of government efforts to combat HIV/AIDS in these regions by improving patient safety in health facilities.
“The single-use kit is the first, vital step in making care safer and combating HIV/AIDS in the east. Our joint response was rapid. Naturally we’re here to help in all areas to halt HIV’s spread in Uzbekistan,” said UNICEF Representative in Uzbekistan Mahboob Shareef.
A series of wider steps have also been agreed upon, in order to tackle HIV and related issues in the regions. These include a plan of action with the regional authorities for HIV prevention among women, children and adolescents, as well as improved treatment and care for mothers and children living with HIV.
Meanwhile, the trust that Halida has fostered with the Roma community has led to new cases being diagnosed and treated.
“One mother was worried that her son had HIV, as he injected drugs a lot,” she said. “She asked me to help her son get an HIV test, and the boy turned out to be positive. He’s being counselled and cared for now.”