Times of Central Asia Examines HIV/AIDS Epidemic, Related Stigma, Discrimination in Tajikistan
The Times of Central Asia on Friday examined the state of HIV/AIDS, and the stigma and discrimination associated with the disease in Tajikistan. Recent data indicate that the number of officially recorded HIV cases in the country increased eightfold from 2001 to 2007. There were 339 new recorded HIV cases last year, bringing the total number of confirmed HIV cases to more than 1,000. However, some health care professionals believe the number of people living with HIV/AIDS is much higher. According to the Times of Central Asia, the country is "struggling to cope" with the spread of HIV/AIDS, which is hindered by a lack of medical services and "conservative moral attitudes which encourage shame and secrecy."
Although the most common route of HIV transmission in Tajikistan is through injection drug use, health officials said that the number of women contracting the virus by their husbands who work as migrant laborers is increasing, the Times of Central Asia reports. Matluba Rahmonova, head of the country's National AIDS Center, said the traditional gender stereotypes and the subordinate status of women do not allow women to receive information on reproductive issues and sexual health, including HIV prevention. She added that as a result, there also is a high rate of mother-to-child transmission of the disease. Amonullo Ghoibov, secretary of the National Coordination Committee To Prevent and Fight HIV/AIDS, TB and Malaria, said, "The mentality of the Tajik people, their culture and traditions, do not allow for an open discussion about sex education issues, HIV transmission routes and protection from infection." He added, "Many labor migrants get infected with HIV by casual sexual partners, as a result of their own ignorance about sexual hygiene."
A 2007 survey conducted by Tajikistan's Center for Strategic Studies and UNAIDS found that HIV-positive children and adults experienced various forms of discrimination. The survey found that about 50% of all secondary school teachers in the country said that HIV-positive children should not be allowed to be in classes with other children and that 60% of physicians said they would not want their children to have any contact with children living with the disease. More than 60% of doctors said they did not believe HIV-positive staff should be allowed to work in health care institutions. The majority of religious leaders in the survey said they were against HIV-positive people holding religious posts.
Manija Haitova, director of the HIV/AIDS Center for Mental Health, said, "Our society is not ready to accept HIV-positive people, and, as a result, they are exposed to a double stigma -- from society and from themselves." She added, "Even when they know their rights, HIV-positive people often don't use them because they fear revealing their status." Haitova said that campaigns that aim to raise awareness should "encourage people to break down the wall of silence and clear away the barriers to effective prevention and treatment for HIV/AIDS." She added, "Only by declaring war on stigma and discrimination is it going to be possible to work on a solution of the problems that arise because of HIV/AIDS" (Majidova, Times of Central Asia, 5/2).