Recently, in commemoration with the 30th anniversary of the fight against HIV/AIDS, I had the opportunity to sit down with people who are on the front lines of this struggle in Kazakhstan. Our informal press round table was a chance for people living with HIV to tell their story about discrimination and access to health care. The discussion was lively, and each person had a different experience to share. One thing everyone had in common was deep remorse for the lives lost to this disease.
A doctor, Gulzhan Akhmatova, shared the difficulties of getting patients to comply with their medication requirements and how this situation is improving dramatically. Nurali Amanzholov, from the Kazakh Union of People Living with HIV, gave a strong overview of the many types of discrimination that HIV-positive and most-at-risk people face in Kazakhstani society. Because infected individuals do not feel safe or free to disclose their status, they remain isolated and unknowingly continue behaviors that facilitate the transmission of HIV. In this environment, the disease remains hidden and spreads.
I am sure there wasn’t a dry eye in the room when Vitaliy Vinogradov, an HIV outreach worker focused on the men who have sex with men population, shared his experience working with this at-risk population. He spoke very personally about the loss of friends to HIV as well as the hate crimes that gay people face in Kazakhstan. The official estimate of gay men living with HIV in Kazakhstan is 1 percent of the total infected population. However, some NGOs estimate the rate is closer to 13 percent.
As Secretary of State Hillary Clinton brought forth in her Remarks in Recognition of Human Rights Day, we must continue to be leaders in the fight for equal treatment of all people. I was honored to share a morning with people in Kazakhstan who are bold advocates for HIV-positive groups in their country, and I look forward to a renewed partnership with them in the fight to end stigma and discrimination toward people living with HIV in Central Asia.