Posted by Jirair Ratevosian, February 8, 2011
For better or for worse, the Eastern Europe and Central Asia region has attracted much attention since the release of the UNAIDS epidemic update last November. According to the report, the number of people living with HIV in the region has nearly tripled since 2000. Even more striking, between 2000–2009 new HIV infections have increased by more than 25% in Armenia, Georgia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, and Tajikistan—five of the seven countries worldwide with this level of increase.
Activists in Armenia with the MSM Initiative-supported group We for Civil Equality.
In a majority of these countries, rates are rising primarily among people who inject drugs, sex workers, and MSM. Although UNAIDS reports that unprotected sex between men is responsible for less than 1% of new HIV diagnoses, those on the front lines know the sobering reality: official data grossly underestimates the actual extent of infection in this highly stigmatized population.
This week in Moldova, more than 100 health and human rights activists have gathered for the closing conference of PRECIS, a widely hailed project aimed at addressing HIV/AIDS among LGBT communities in former Soviet Union countries. Since 2006, the project has partnered with eight CBOs in Armenia, Azerbaijan, Georgia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Moldova, and Ukraine.
Thanks to support from PRECIS, many activists have built vibrant organizations that have been able to catalyze change on a local and national level. Groups in Moldova and Georgia, for example, have recently succeeded in advancing anti-discrimination legislation at the national level.
amfAR’s MSM Initiative is also a source of support for CBOs in the region. This past year, amfAR funded Gender and Development in Baku, Azerbaijan, and is currently supporting We for Civil Equality in Yerevan, Armenia.
While there are numerous worthy achievements celebrated here this week, significant challenges remain. In Moldova—where an LGBT activist committed suicide in December after police harassment—many are gravely concerned that the dearth of available funding for the region will undermine significant progress. Recognizing the need, the Global Fund has approved Round 10 HIV funding for Georgia and Kazakhstan to expand programming to most-at-risk-populations.
Support from the Global Fund and amfAR are immensely valuable, but government and donor assistance remain critical in a region that is hoping that PRECIS is not the end but rather a pivotal point along the long journey to secure good health and human rights for all.