Kyrgyzstan: HIV patient speaks for anti-retroviral therapy

MARAT: “BY HELPING OTHERS, I WAS HELPING MYSELF”
Marat: “By helping others, I was helping myself". Photo: UNDP in Kyrgyzstan.

Marat*, a 38-year old father and husband, learned that he was HIV positive while undergoing drug detox in 2009. Pre and post-test counselling wasn’t usual in Kyrgyzstan at the time, so Marat assumed that “HIV positive” meant good news.

But after he understood the diagnosis, Marat refused the treatments offered to him.

Highlights

  • Kyrgyzstan has one of the highest HIV spread rates in the world, with 65% of the PLHIV injecting drug users.
  • The programme aims to slow down the spread of HIV infection through improving access to services and quality in prevention, treatment and care.
  • Close to 1,200 people received antiretroviral therapy in May 2014, compared to 778 in May 2013.

“I felt physically fine,” he says. “I distrusted antiretroviral therapy (ART) because I understood it to be similar to chemotherapy and that it had side effects. Also, I didn’t want to take medication twice daily for the rest of my life.”

Six months after his diagnosis, Marat volunteered at Mutanazzif, an NGO supporting People Living with HIV (PLHIV). When he began to show painful physical signs of HIV, a psychologist/coordinator explained to him that antiretroviral drugs have minimal side-effects and stop the progression of the disease. Thanks to her efforts, Marat began ART and felt physically and mentally healthier within six months.

As a result, Marat became an advocate for ART and, along with two outreach workers, founded the public fund Prosvet. This volunteer-based group collaborates with organizations to educate people about HIV in Bishkek, the capital of Kyrgyzstan.  The group provides counselling, psychological testing, services on rehabilitation and reintegration into society as well as legal advice. It also works with medical personnel and family of PLHIV to combat HIV stigma and discrimination.

“By helping others,” Marat says, “I was helping myself.”

In 2012, Prosvet received funding from the UNDP-implemented Global Fund HIV grant. The programme focuses on preventing HIV by promoting human rights and gender equality, strengthening the governance component, and mainstreaming AIDS issues into national policies. One of its goals is to improve the treatment, care and support for people living with HIV (PLHIV) and promote measures to prevent HIV among populations at higher risk.

Now Prosvet has eight staff members, and has expanded its presence beyond Bishkek to three towns nearby. Peer-to-peer counselling has been a great success as 60 percent of the Prosvet staff is HIV positive, making it much easier for clients to relate and trust their counselor.

As a result of increased access to prevention and treatment services through organizations like Prosvet, 1,196 people received ART in May 2014, compared to 778 in May 2013. Between January to March 2014, 129 PLHIV committed to antiretroviral treatment.

With support from the UNDP-Global Fund partnership and organizations like Prosvet, the confusion and anxiety Marat endured when he was first diagnosed with HIV can be prevented.

 “People need me,” he says. “Clients look forward to my visits for advice and motivation.”

* Not the actual name