BY JIRAIR RATEVOSIAN
Today is World AIDS Day—the day of the year when the world’s attention is temporarily fixated on a social phenomenon that has stolen the lives of millions of people around the world over the last 30 years.
But there is some good news. A new report by the United Nations Program on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS) shows that the AIDS epidemic is beginning to change course as the number of people newly infected with HIV is declining and AIDS-related deaths are decreasing.
Yet, despite important advances over the last 10 years, some 2.6 million people became newly infected with HIV last year. Africa continues to be the region most affected by the epidemic. But now a new trend is emerging: In seven countries, mostly in Eastern Europe and Central Asia, new HIV infection rates have increased by 25 percent in recent years.
Here’s the bad news. ARMENIA is #1 on that list. In our motherland, the epidemic is concentrated primarily among people who inject drugs, sex workers, gay men, and other men who have sex with men. It is no coincidence the epidemic is spreading in populations that are socially marginalized and politically irrelevant. Stigma, discrimination, and violence against LGBT Armenians and other vulnerable groups fuel the spread of HIV and AIDS.
Today, this injustice is tainting the moral character of our resilient people. The Armenian government, civil society groups, the private sector, the church, and the media all have a critical role to play in respond to our generation’s greatest challenge. And so do we.
As diaspora, we must face up to this new reality. We have a responsibility to raise awareness in our homes and in our communities—in schools, with lawmakers, community leaders, the media, and the church. Above all, we must support our courageous brothers and sisters working in our homeland each and every day for equality and social justice.
Get involved—write a letter to your local Armenian newspaper, encourage community leaders to raise awareness at events and support NGOs in Armenia fighting the good fight.
Jirair Ratevosian, MPH, is based in Washington D.C. He chairs the International Health Advocacy and Policy Committee of the American Public Health Association and is deputy director of public policy for amfAR, the Foundation for AIDS Research.