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Romania: Stigma Attached to HIV Postitive People Printable Version PRINTABLE VERSION
by Daniela Tuchel, Romania Jul 30, 2004
Human Rights   Short Stories
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The Romanians affected by HIV/AIDS face the trauma of social exclusion, due to community ignorance.

"When I was diagnosed with HIV, I fell into a depression so severe, that it almost cost my life. I was in deep shock; I couldn't believe this was happening to me. I thought of suicide and I completely refused professional counselling. It took me months to manage, somehow, to pull myself together, only thanks to my family's support through this ordeal".

Mihai, not his real name, is one of the thousands teenagers who are living with HIV in Bucharest. He says that he was diagnosed five years ago and, since then, his life has been a long list of "sufferings and frustrations".

"At first, I sought comfort with my best friends, besides my family of course. When they learnt I got HIV, they all started avoiding me, under different pretexts. Eventually, we grew apart and my only true friend now is my dog. I don't want people to know my real identity; I have suffered too much after I lost my closest friends".

Mihai says that it all started with an ordinary toothache. He got infected after he went to see a dentist. Mihai was only 11 at the time and, since then, his life has changed completely. To Mihai, the physical symptoms of the disease are not as important as the "battle" that has been in his "heart and mind".

"No one can imagine what was going through my mind when I saw other children playing and I couldn't do the same because they just wouldn't have me among them. What was I punished for?"

Aurora Liiceanu, one of the best Romanian psychologists, who has been seeing similar cases for many years, explains this attitude by ‘a lack of education of tolerance’. "We can't live with the things that are unusual", she says. "The Romanians in general think that the people with HIV/AIDS should stay in hospitals and not mix among the healthy. They also believe that it is the duty only of the state to take care of the infected. Thus, the rejection of those affected by the virus", Liiceanu says.

In order to reduce the social exclusion of the infected people, some Romanian NGOs have started various projects which aim to educate organizations and individuals about relevant issues related to HIV/AIDS and also to prevent the spread of this epidemic.

Such a project is SEYPA (Social Exclusion Young People AIDS), which began last year and focuses on five European countries with high prevalence of HIV: Romania, Russia, Italy, Spain and Portugal. "The project has been conducting fieldwork with the help of children/adolescents living with HIV/AIDS in order to identify gaps in policies and services and produce tools and action programmes that reduce exclusion", Mugur Badarau, SEYPA project coordinator - Romanian Angel Appeal, told IWPR.

He says that most Romanians are not familiar with the ways HIV is transmitted, or even misinformed, and thus avoid direct contact with positive persons and, in some cases, even by breaching these people’s right to education, work, medical assistance, and so on.

In its latest report on the situation regarding HIV and AIDS, the World Bank notes an "alarming increase" in infection rates in South-eastern Europe, with 13,000 cases in Romania alone in 2003. The study says that although Africa has more infected people, South-eastern Europe could be "the site of the world's next HIV/AIDS crisis".

"These figures are not exact due to the lack of a proper testing. I am sure that a testing done at a national level in Romania would reveal a grimmer reality", Claudia Catana, information officer with the Romanian Angel Appeal (RAA), says.

The representative of the Romanian organization which set up many HIV-related projects in the past 13 years added that such a testing was not possible because it would have proven too expensive for the already weak Romanian economy.

"The figures are much higher and many people are unknowingly spreading the disease. By law, the HIV testing is compulsory only in maternity wards. And we should not forget that the vast majority of the sick people in Romania are teenagers or adults who are sexually active".

Catana says that most of these people were infected in hospitals before 1989, but the evidence were destroyed by the communists while they were still in power, so it is impossible now to keep track of the sick patients. "Most of the people who got infected at that time don't know it, even to this day", Catana says.

Mihai learnt he got HIV almost a year after he got infected. "I wasn't feeling very well, it's true, but the last thing on my parents' mind was to make me take a HIV test. It took a long time and many weeks spent on hospital beds until a doctor thought I should take some thorough blood tests".

Refuse of Health Care

One of the main problems Romanian people living with HIV/AIDS face is the denial of medical care.

After such a long time since he got infected, Mihai knows that the people living with HIV never have a perfect health, that they are vulnerable to the most serious diseases, some of which are rare even among human beings. Mihai says that what he personally needs to see more often was dentists and dermatologists.

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Daniela Tuchel

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