Armen Melikbekyan

Listening to Those With HIV/AIDS in Armenia

People in Armenia who have HIV/AIDS live under a shroud of shame and ignorance that has persisted since the Soviet era. Some lose their jobs, while others might have trouble getting proper medical treatment, and a huge majority say they have suffered some type of abuse or discrimination at the hands of police or other authorities.

For three months, I have been working with a team of journalists researching a documentary on the plight of people with HIV/AIDS in Armenia. With some difficulty, we have managed to persuade some to talk to us, albeit with their identities concealed. Among them is a man who lost his job when his employer discovered his HIV status. He says he has been subject to verbal abuse, and people are reluctant even to touch him.

Another says that police officers often have inadequate training in dealing with people who are HIV-positive and will, for instance, violate the person’s right to confidentiality or be slow to act on an infected person’s complaints.

The incidence of HIV/AIDS is on the rise in Armenia. The UN AIDS agency estimates that the number of those living with HIV in Armenia rose from about 3,600 in 2011 to 4,000 in 2014, in a country of about 3 million. But advocacy groups say the government pays only lip service to the need to change people's attitudes toward the disease, while actually leaving the hard work of consciousness-raising to nongovernmental organizations.

We aim to look at personal stories as well as education efforts and the state of health care for HIV/AIDS patients, with the ultimate goal of stirring compassion and lifting the stigma attached to living with this disease.

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