© UNICEF Romania
Iulian Petre: “Throughout UNOPA’s existence we have had strong support from UNICEF.”
In his own words
Iulian Petre is the Executive Director of UNOPA, the National Union of Organisations of People affected by HIV and AIDS.
What is UNOPA, and what does it do?
Formed in 2000, UNOPA is a union representing the NGOs whose members are people living with HIV and AIDS. We formed because of the very real need to work on behalf of our members to present a united front to policy makers, decision makers, employees and indeed society as a whole. We have about 20 members, and the NGOs are based all around Romania. UNOPA is like a watchdog, bringing to the attention of authorities all the problems that arise over different situations for people with HIV and AIDS.
You have had some major achievements?
In 2000 not everyone with HIV-AIDS was able to benefit from free treatment, and many people died. But since then almost everyone is receiving free treatment and social protection through legislation for disabled people, people who are members of NGOs which are in turn members of UNOPA. There is a chapter written into the legislation for them. However, they do not feel that this issue is solved so completely that they can sleep peacefully. They need to remain vigilant.
What is the biggest problem facing Romania’s long-term survivors?
The biggest handicap is educational. Half of the survivors – who are now typically aged between 19 and 22 – have not graduated from high school, which means that at their age they are unlikely to find unemployment. So finalising their studies is a major issue.
How will they finalise their studies?
Some have succeeded in returning to school and finalising their studies, and some are students at the moment, in high schools and universities.There is an education programme run by the Ministry of Education called Second Chance, dedicated to children and young people who could not attend school for several years. They can go back to perhaps do two years in one. They are also able to apply for vocational courses for different jobs and professions.
Do they come up against discrimination?
The most common form is in the community. In schools and hospitals, there is still discrimination, but not at the level of several years ago, when they might have been refused medical treatment, or refused a classroom to study. People are much better informed. At the workplace you find stigma and discrimination when people discover that their colleague is HIV positive. Employers are better informed, but there are still many cases of discrimination.
How has UNICEF helped UNOPA?
When UNOPA formed in 2000, UNICEF helped in the area of organisational issues. That was important, because it was the first time that all our members were together, and they needed support and advice on how to stay together. UNICEF has supported specific activities – it has helped organize our annual meetings and helped with fund raising for their development. It has helped with the monitoring of the rights of people living with HIV, and has supported advocacy activities. It has introduced us to european-wide HIV and AIDS forums, and helped form the Fighters, a group of young people who live with HIV and AIDS who act as activists and counselors.