HIV-positive people still treated as monsters

43448.jpegMany countries in the world spend billions of dollars on the struggle against HIV and AIDS. On the one hand, they are constantly telling us how not to contract the dangerous infection. On the other hand, they are trying to make people realize that HIV positive individuals are not dangerous. In spite of the fact that we are living in the age of high technologies, it seems that the society has remained somewhere in the Middle Ages when it comes to the issues of HIV and AIDS. Many people prefer to stay away from HIV positive individuals. Many others believe that those having HIV/AIDS should be isolated from the society.

Nowadays, even children know what HIV is and how it can be transmitted to others. However, many still shudder at the thought of shaking hands with someone who has HIV/AIDS. Fear and condemnation may very often prevail over common sense.

Pilot Sergei Afanasyev (the name has been changed) had to face this type of attitude in 2005. He was barred from service after he had been diagnosed HIV positive. Afanasyev was working as a pilot and aircraft commander in a number of air carriers. His has flown 14,609 hours since 1989. In 2005, Sergei started working for Aeroflot as a pilot of Tu-154.

When Sergei started suffering from sore throat, he was hospitalized in the medical center of the carrier. His blood samples returned sad results: the man was diagnosed with HIV. The bad medical news led to another big problem: the man was fired.

Aeroflot, the man's employer, acted according to instructions, which said that citizens having AIDS could not be employed as pilots of all types of aviation. Sergei disagreed with the statement and sued the carrier. It became known this week that the court took the side of the defendant. In accordance with the law about the prevention of the distribution of HIV/AIDS in the Russian Federation, a person can not be fired just because he or she has been diagnosed with HIV. Moreover, the instructions suspending HIV-positive pilots from their work violate international standards of the Convention on International Civil Aviation.

Officials with the Russian Ministry for Transport insisted, though, that Afanasyev's disease poses a danger to his passengers, because the pilot's health may aggravate during a flight. The man's lawyer convinced the court that such apprehensions were groundless.

Afanasyev is not the first, and, unfortunately, not the last HIV-positive person, who has to deal with such an attitude. Pravda.Ru has previously reported about Svetlana Izambayeva - a young woman from Tatarstan, who could not obtain custody over her brother after their parents' death. Svetlana has a good job and a happy family. Her only drawback is her diagnosis - the woman has HIV. It took her months to receive custody for her own brother who was living between a foster family and an orphanage.

As soon as HIV-positive individuals encounter rejection and fear in the society, many of them begin to lead a socially active lifestyle. Infection-carriers try to prove it to other people that they are not dangerous. They also unite in various groups and associations to defend those who have been discriminated. Nevertheless, there are too many of those who do not want to take any risks at all even though they realize that there are no risks in contacting HIV-positive people.

Fear can make people commit the unthinkable. In Russia's Kaliningrad, the chairwoman of Status Plus organization of HIV-positive patients, Svetlana Prosvirina, filed a lawsuit on discrimination in 2009.

Prosvirina and her colleague, Larisa Soloviova, called a taxicab to the building of the Anti-AIDS Center in the city. The cab arrived, but as soon as the driver realized what kind of clients he would have to serve, he drove away immediately. Svetlana called the taxi service again. "This is the AIDS center, there is AIDS there everywhere," an operator responded.

Roman Ledkov from the city of Irkutsk learned of his disease in 1999. The man could not come to terms with his diagnosis at first. However, his life changed for the better afterwards. Roman quit doing drugs, he started traveling and joined the All-Russian association of HIV-positive individuals. Roman is perfectly familiar with the issue of discrimination of HIV-positive patients.

"We were once holding a training session for prison inmates. Just try to imagine - there were severe macho men in the audience, most of them murderers. As soon as we started talking about tolerance towards HIV-positive people, someone in the audience screamed: "Kill'em all! There's no place for AIDS-carriers here!" Of course, I preferred not to reveal my status under such circumstances," the man said.

In most cases, it is adult people, who demonstrate negative attitude to HIV-infected people.

"Young people are more tolerant, because they have been forming their opinions about HIV against the background of adequate information. They are ready to help and accept those who are sick. Adults in Russia are still scared, they still follow gossip and rumors, that's why they reject us entirely," he said.

Ksenia Obraztsova

Read the original in Russian

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Author`s name Dmitry Sudakov