A Story of HIV, Migration, Motherhood and Courage

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On the third Sunday in May, each year, since 1983, countless thousands of people across the globe have come together to place candles in public places to remember those for have died with HIV/AIDS.

Among them are family members of migrants.

It is estimated that 70 per cent of new HIV cases in Armenia are among migrants, who generally don’t consider themselves to be at risk, and rarely seek testing. Armenian labour migrants are mostly male, typically spend from seven months to a year in the Russian Federation, and in between stints in Russia they return to their families in Armenia.

IOM in Armenia reaches out to migrants and their families through an interactive social media programme called "Sincere Talk”, a phrase Armenians use in daily speech when they want to stress that they are being open and honest.

The overall goal of the campaign is to improve HIV/AIDS awareness among urban labour migrants. Communicating complicated information in a user-friendly way is hard and "Sincere talk" aims to accomplish that via storytelling.   

The campaign gives people affected by HIV an anonymous platform to interact and tell their stories.

Today, on the eve of International AIDS Candlelight Memorial Day, IOM received this story on the platform:

Hello! Every time I have to talk about my status, I start to moan.

I got married and moved from Armenia in the mid-nineties. In the first year of marriage, my husband started showing strange behaviour, which, being a young woman, I could not understand. But it soon became apparent that my husband was using drugs. Countless times there have been promises that this nightmare will end, but nothing changed.

I gave birth to my firstborn in unbearably difficult conditions. A new phase of life began, where I had to take care of my child and of my health. The exhaustion of my body kept scaring me, but I connected everything with my postpartum state of mind. My husband’s behaviour connected with drug use forced me to gather my last strength and return to Armenia with my child.

With the support of my parents, I started treatment in medical institutions. There were some wrong medical interventions, which made my condition worse. Finally, I was referred to the Pulmonology Center and it turned out that I was infected with HIV and TB. The long treatment process began․ TB treatment was successful, but HIV treatment will accompany me for the rest of my life.

For more than ten years, since I found out about my status, I have been treated in very, very different ways. In Armenia, the treatment of these two infections is free, but what to do when you have to go to hospitals due to related diseases? There have been cases when my HIV status was marked in red on my medical card, and the doctors demanded additional medical tools and accessories to examine me.

Over the years, I have learned to defend my rights and, by informing others, to some extent prevent stigma and discrimination against people like me.

Finally, I realized that living with HIV is not a verdict. By living with HIV, you can have a healthy baby, be active and just enjoy every day of your life.

You can light and dedicate a virtual candle at https://www.candlelightmemorial.net/virtual-candles/light-a-candle/