Media campaign aimed at stigma of AIDS

Kiev, Ukraine, 19 March 2001 - Today, the international medical aid agency Médecins Sans Frontierès (MSF) launches a mass media campaign in Ukraine aimed at tackling the stigmatisation and discrimination directed at the large number of people living with HIV/AIDS. In 1995, there were 250 cases of HIV/AIDS in Ukraine. Today, six years later, there are more than a quarter of a million HIV-infected cases (UNAIDS) - more than in any other CIS country. The epidemic has now spread beyond the original small high-risk group of the population, which included drug users and sexworkers, into the wider community. Yet, discrimination and stigmatisation towards people living with HIV/AIDS are still firmly embedded in public attitudes and within the medical profession. After the collapse of the Soviet Union, financial resources decreased and the quality of healthcare in Ukraine deteriorated. Information on new medical issues, including HIV/AIDS infection, transmission, treatment and prevention were limited. MSF surveys in Ukraine have shown that this lack of knowledge and general misinformation on HIV/AIDS, are contributing to the stigmatisation of people living with HIV/AIDS. In Odessa, Natasha, 23, has been living with HIV for over three years. Her experience is that people tend to believe that anyone with HIV is a "bad person," and that only people from high-risk groups become infected. "What most people don't know is that HIV-positive people lead absolutely normal lives," says Natasha. "We study, we work and we get married, just like everyone else." Many people with HIV/AIDS are rejected by their friends and families, fired from their jobs and relocated from their houses. Some medical workers also mistreat or even refuse to treat people with HIV/AIDS. A mass media campaign was developed from the results of the MSF research. Through television and radio commercials, distribution of leaflets and posters, advertisements and a website, the campaign aims to inform people of the facts about HIV and AIDS to reduce misconceptions. By using personal stories and experiences of people who have been in contact with people living with HIV/AIDS, the MSF campaign aims to help people to deal with their emotions when confronting similar situations. Ultimately, the purpose is to create more tolerance towards people with HIV/AIDS. The campaign will commence on March 20 in Kiev and maybe extended to other regions later. MSF has been developing and implementing HIV/AIDS projects in collaboration with the Ministry of Health, universities and NGOs in Ukraine since 1999. Besides the media campaign, MSF is running a harm-reduction project, information centres for medical workers and an AIDS care and support programme in the south of Ukraine. Medecins Sans Frontieres works in over 80 countries worldwide. MSF is committed to two objectives: providing medical care regardless of race, religion, politics or gender and raising awareness of humanitarian crisis situations. MSF programmes are mainly funded by private donations to guarantee the independence; other funding sources include various international organisations and governments. MSF was awarded the 1999 Noble Peace Prize.