A Mission to Live and Help Others Live a Full Life
Elina, a young woman in a village near the capital of Kyrgyzstan, has already buried several of her friends who lived with HIV. They died, having not disclosed their status. Being afraid of stigma, many people in Kyrgyzstan prefer to conceal their status, they do not go to hospitals as they are scared that doctors would break confidentially and everybody will know about them. HIV related problems are still silenced. The official statistics still show a low level of prevalence, experts have strong evidence to argue that the real numbers are ten times higher.
Elina learned that she had HIV when she was pregnant with her second baby. Although her friends warned her several times that her drug-addicted husband would infect her with something sooner or later, it was a complete shock for her. Elina, whose mother died in delivery when she was eight years old, was always prudent and never did anything that would cause people to gossip. She could never imagine that HIV would be her case. HIV in Kyrgyzstan has entered a stage of infecting the general population. It is not longer limited to risky groups.
The doctor who attended Elina in pregnancy assured her that there was a high chance that the child would be born HIV free if she would follow the doctor’s orders. Her child was born in 2008 and one and a half years later, she was happy to hear that her daughter was not HIV positive.
Elina always set goals for herself and worked industriously to reach them. After the initial shock, she returned to a normal life and set another goal. Her goal was to give her children a proper education and provide them with all possible parental support – something that she had not received herself. She has not disclosed her status to her relatives but all of them know about it from her husband. This silently distance her from them. She does not expect any help from them and rely only on herself. She takes care of her health and thinks about the future. She strongly believes that if God allows for difficulties, He will also give strength to cope with them. “I cannot pass, before I realize my goal – my mission as a parent,” she said to herself.
Her mission turned out to be much more than just that of a parent. One day, a nurse who knew her status, asked Elina to talk to a young lady who was suffering from depression after she had been diagnosed with HIV. That was the beginning of her new mission. “My mission on Earth was not just to support my children, there are also many people who needed me or just needed to hear my story to return to life again,” said Elina to herself. The number of women who need Elina has been growing. Together with a group of most active women, she decided to create an NGO to extend support to women living with HIV in their district.
Still, her mission continued to grow. In summer 2009, Elina was invited to monitor UNICEF-supported healthcare initiatives in other parts of the country. She was a member of a monitoring team which went to southern Kyrgyzstan to see how maternity houses use express-tests and support women living with HIV. She met with local NGOs working with mothers of children who had been infected in hospitals in 2007. They talked about the biggest problem – stigma and discrimination – which had been created by a lack of information about HIV and a fear raised by media. The situation has been aggravated by several traditional believes. For instance, people consider HIV and other health problems of women and their children as God’s punishment for women’s sins. Other family members do not support mothers as it is strongly believed that women’s and children’s health is only a mother’s business.
Elina now thinks that her mission is as big as to help all women and children affected by HIV in Kyrgyzstan to live without stigma and discrimination. She is closely collaborating with local authorities and international organizations in addressing stigma and discrimination on all fronts. All the efforts will be soon integrated into a communication strategy supported by UNICEF and other UN Agencies in Kyrgyzstan. The strategy will be based on the assessment conducted by UNICEF in mid 2009 which identified men as one of the main partners in this course. They have the duty to support their children who live with HIV and protect them from stigma and discrimination. They can do much by simply being tested and supporting their wives in pregnancy to prevent the transmission of HIV from mother to child.
UNICEF supports these efforts as it strongly believes it is time to pay serious attention to the issue of stigma and discrimination. “Kyrgyzstan has strong actors who can do that. We see strong commitment of local authorities and the healthcare administration, and a great work of a few, but very active, women and men in the non-governmental sector who took on a mission to live and help others to live a full life. Actions now can really reduce the prevalence of HIV and help people affected by the disease to improve their life chances.” said Tim Schaffter, UNICEF Representative in Kyrgyzstan.