The HIV epidemic in Tajikistan is usually divided into three phases: the first lasted from 1991 to 2000, during which time only 37 cases were registered in the country. The second, from 2000 to 2011, is considered to be a period of escalation, when the number of officially registered HIV cases increased by 77 times. The third phase, stabilization, lasted from 2011 until the end of last year, when the growth in distribution increased by 3.3 times. However, if the issue of HIV today can be named controlled, then the level of stigma, non-recognition and discrimination of key groups by the society, until recently, remained extremely high. So far, thanks to the joint efforts of officials and activists, the situation was changed.
The system is hard to change. But you can.
“The case when in front of everyone in line for an analysis, a doctor could shout to a person: “Do you have HIV? Come quickly!”, alas, was not rare. And this is just one of many like it.” – says Farishtamokh Gulova, national coordinator of the REAct system in Tajikistan. According to her, the situation with the violation of the rights of vulnerable groups of the population by medical personnel was extremely difficult: the status of people was disclosed, personal data was transferred to third parties, there was neglect and contempt, especially towards representatives of LGBT and MSM communities. Activists registered these cases, tried to “reach out” to medical staff, including at a higher level, however, the desired reaction did not follow. Until the moment when a new leadership came to the AIDS Center of Tajikistan. Deputy Director – Mr. Alijon Soliev, previously worked in projects himself, was engaged in volunteering, therefore, when he learned about such cases, he immediately showed readiness to cooperate with civil society and determination to stop such offenses by medical personnel.
Let’s act together!
In June of this year, REActors were able to discuss the most common situations with Mr. Soliev. So, one of them took place in the area of republican subordination, the city of Tursunzade. The wife of a person living with HIV received a call and was told, “Your husband has the virus, you should come with your children and get tested. You need to understand whether you have HIV or not.” At that time, the woman did not know about his status – he was in migration. Upon his return, the man talked to his wife, but the infectious disease specialist continued to call her and bother her with demands to come. This made husband very angry; he did not want his wife to be told about HIV in such a tone and decided to find out everything himself. Upon arrival at the local AIDS Center, there was a conflict: instead of an apology, the epidemiologist got rude to the man. He fixed everything and turned to the REActor for help. According to Farishtamokh, she told Mr. Soliev about this case on Saturday, and on Sunday he gathered all the doctors for an online meeting. As a result, the doctor who created a conflict situation and disclosed the man’s HIV status was reprimanded.
Another case of status disclosure involved a trans person from the Khatlon region. She returned from Russia in July, got registered in Dushanbe, received ARV therapy for three months and left to work in Turkey. The family did not know about her HIV status and would have remained so if the laboratory assistant at the AIDS center had not been a relative and had not recognized her. For disclosure of the status of the client, and negligence, the employee was reprimanded. Of course, such cases help to improve activities in the regions and increase the level of information on all sides of the situation. Lack of experience and mentality play an important role in ALL patient care cycles in AIDS centers.
“Mr. Soliev asked to be immediately reported if even the slightest offense is recorded: refusal to issue certificates or certificates, negligent attitude to tests, rude treatment when issuing ARV drugs…” Farishtamokh adds. “We are well aware that top management cannot control everything – there are 66 AIDS centers in the country, but thanks to the work of REActors, it has become possible to identify and correct the situation.”
“Obviously, civil society in Tajikistan is now being heard and seen. We are invited, we are consulted – it means a lot.” – Pulod Jamolov, head of the SPIN Plus organization, comments on the situation. “And I can confidently say that such cooperation between the authorities, represented by representatives of medical structures and civil society, together with REActors, really changes the situation within the country.”