Stigmas in Russia about HIV/AIDS persist, and as socially conservative legislation gains traction, accessing HIV testing, prevention, and treatment remains difficult. But E.V.A. is fighting to change that. The Saint Petersburg-based network was founded in 2010 to unite and support women living with HIV. E.V.A.’s activists, who operate in twenty-seven regions across Russia, work to improve access to medical and social services for these women. As a project coordinator at E.V.A., Elena Ivanova is one of these activists, educating and advocating for the HIV-positive people in her community.
How did you become involved in combating HIV/AIDS?
In 2010, while I was waiting for a doctor’s appointment at an HIV/AIDS center, I came across an article in a magazine about the importance of equal consultation (when a consultation of a patient with HIV/AIDS is conducted by an HIV-positive person). I got really interested in this practice. Three years later, I saw an advertisement posted by E.V.A. about recruitment for an HIV/AIDS equal consultant position. I went to an interview and got the job.
After that, I started my work fighting HIV/AIDS, gradually broadening my knowledge, skills and capabilities in order to help people. In the past five years I was able to repeatedly, openly raise awareness about important moments related to the fight against HIV/AIDS, become a project coordinator who advocates for equal rights for people living with HIV, and take part in different events related to this issue. What is especially important is that I was able to realize a series of master classes for HIV-positive individuals and their relatives, where people, regardless of their status, could create and communicate together.
What is something most people don’t know about HIV/AIDS, especially in 2018?
Many people don’t know that when planning to become pregnant, they should take an HIV test. The main stereotype in Russia is that an HIV test is not considered a norm, but something obscure.
What is life like today for those living with HIV/AIDS in Russia?
In Russia, the life of someone who is HIV positive is very unstable. At any time you can expect a negative attitude from doctors, acquaintances, and colleagues, which can really break you morally.
“Many people don’t know that when planning to become pregnant, they should take an HIV test.”
Can you share an inspiring story that stands out in your mind related to your work with HIV/AIDS?
I am inspired by my husband’s story. When we met, he was very calm when he learned about my diagnosis, even though he doesn’t have HIV. And later on, regardless of his parents’ disapproval, he stayed with me and continues to support me in my activism.
Why is HIV/AIDS such an important issue to you?
I want as many people as possible to remain HIV-negative, and for as many who are HIV positive as possible to live happy and positive lives.
What aspects of your work bring you hope for the future?
I see more and more people being open about the issue, and this decrease in stigma almost doesn’t shock me anymore.
Why is World AIDS Day an important day to celebrate, and what will you be doing on that day?
On this day, it is important to remember the accomplishments that have already been made in the fight against HIV/AIDS. For that, I am planning to hold a master class for HIV-positive people and their relatives about creating pill cases because access to [antiretroviral] treatment is one of the greatest achievements in the fight against HIV/AIDS.
What are some simple things people can do to raise awareness about, and support those living with, HIV/AIDS?
Just communicate with HIV-positive people without stigma about their diagnosis.
Translation from Russian by Elena Walker. This interview has been edited for length and clarity. For more information about how you can support the fight against HIV/AIDS community, visit our resource page.
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