The march, organized by a coalition of NGOs working in Armenia, was held under the banner of breaking the cycle of indifference and discrimination toward Armenians living with HIV/AIDS. Organizers held a press conference Tuesday to discuss their efforts and the challenges they face trying to raise awareness of the disease in Armenia.
“There are people who have done their research and they know they have the HIV virus, but they don’t take care of their health, fearing a negative reaction from the public,” explained Hovhannes Madoyan, head of the organization Real World, Real People.
Experts monitoring the spread of AIDS in Armenia warn that the number of people living with the disease in Armenia is growing faster than the development of preventive measures in the country. The disparity is largely attributed to the taboo nature of the subject in Armenia.
“There is a widely held belief in Armenia that the danger of contracting the HIV virus stems mostly from gay and lesbian people, when in reality, the virus is most often spread among heterosexual people,” said Mamikon Hovsepyan of Public Information and Need of Knowledge (PINK).
According to the Armenian Health Ministry’s Center for Prevention and Control of HIV/AIDS, the main method of transmission in Armenia is through intercourse between heterosexuals, while injection drug use accounts for 44 % of cases. Nearly half of the HIV/AIDS cases in Armenia are registered Yerevan.
“It is because of discrimination and intolerance, that they cannot go see a doctor or seek treatment,” he added. “In Armenia, people’s rights continue to be violated, while the accessibility of treatment continues to remain a dream.”
Treatment for the disease is limited in Armenia, as is education and awareness on preventative measures. According to experts, negative attitudes towards drug users, homosexuals, and prostitutes in Armenia prevent many people from taking advantage of free antiretroviral treatment, which can prolong an infected person’s life by many years.
The Health Ministry says that the first registered cases of the disease in Armenia came in 1988. There are currently 808 registered cases of people with HIV/AIDS in Armenia today, with 60 percent of the infected being adults ranging from 25 to 39 years old and nearly 75 percent being men. HIV/AIDS Prevention Center estimates that the real number of people infected in Armenia could be as high as 2,800.
AIDS has killed more than 25 million people between 1981 and 2007. An estimated 33.2 million people worldwide live with HIV as of 2007. Despite recent improvements in access to antiretroviral treatment and care in many regions of the world, the AIDS epidemic claimed an estimated 2 million lives in 2007, of which about 270,000 were children.