By Elena Gridasova, AHF guest blogger from Kiev
Many Ukrainians have a rather lax disposition toward their own health. They usually try to avoid thinking about anything that has to do with diseases or health care. The same is true about their attitudes toward HIV and the risk of getting infected.
Some might rationalize it by saying, “I don’t use drugs, and don’t use the services of commercial sex workers, so HIV definitely doesn’t concern me!” However, statistics from the Kiev Municipal AIDS Center show otherwise – 40% of identified HIV positive people contracted the virus through heterosexual sex.
These are not drug-users, or prostitutes, or men-who-have-sex-with-men—groups typically considered high-risk. But rather these are people who found out about their positive status by accident – for example, during a pre-natal consultation at a doctor’s office.
Realizing that luring Kiev’s residents into a hospital or a clinic for an HIV test is incredibly difficult, Kiev Municipal Center for Prevention and Treatment of HIV/AIDS organized a mobile HIV testing initiative in partnership with AIDS Healthcare Foundation and the Kiev Municipal Center of Social Service for Families, Children and Youth. The event is being conducted in two stages, from Sept. 13-24 and Oct. 3-8 in densely populated areas of the city.
Typically passersby join the testing line while returning home from work or shopping, on their way to a café or to meet with friends. It’s very convenient. It takes just 15 minutes and the results are ready.
Many say they want to find out their status “just in case,” – because they believe their odds of getting infected are so minimal. Regardless of the reasons, it’s nice to see that not all Ukrainians are indifferent about their health. They are willing to stand in a line and get tested voluntarily.
It’s important to note that the test results are given to clients by psychologists. For those who had a negative result, the testers dispelled common myths about HIV. For example, they explain that if a close family member is HIV-positive, he or she doesn’t need to have a separate plate, cup, utensils or a towel, and it’s not necessary do disinfect the bathtub and toilet after them; that if in the kindergarten there is an HIV-positive child, it’s not necessary to transfer their own children somewhere else. Staff members also talk about little-known facts – for example, they explain that if a woman is HIV-positive, in 95% of cases—with proper treatment and prevention—she can have a healthy baby.
For clients who receive an HIV-positive result, counselors give information about what steps to take next, while reassuring them that HIV is manageable and that treatment can substantially improve and extend their lives.
So far, six testing events have been conducted. As a result 640 people have been tested and 12 HIV-positive persons have been identified.
It appears that in 6 of those 12 cases sexual mode of transmission was the cause of infection, which points to the fact that it is increasingly becoming the main mode of transmission in this region.
I am convinced that what we are doing is very important and that Kiev is in great need of such initiatives.