On July 23 – the first day of the AIDS 2018 conference, – the events of the “Chase the virus, not people!” campaign were commenced by a press conference with the participation of representatives of main member-networks. Vitaly Djuma (ECOM), Anna Dovbakh (Eurasian Harm Reduction Association), Daniil Stolbunov (Teenergizer), Marina Avramenko (SWAN), Voytsekh Tomchinskiy (ECUO), and Yuliya Godunova (EWNA) took part in the said press conference.

ECOM’s Executive Director, Vitaly Djuma, “emphasized the critical situation regarding homophobia, stigma, and discrimination related to gays and other men who have sex with men in the region”. According to Vitaly,” 21% of all HIV cases in the EECA region are registered particularly among MSM. In conformity with the research conducted by ECOM, every fifth gay in Kiev and Saint Petersburg – and every fourth one in Tbilisi – lives with HIV. Apart from this, homosexual relationships remain criminalized in such countries like Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan. About a year ago, real cases of hunts on gays in Chechnya received wide publicity. Nonetheless, it was not a unique case: it became known that a number of raids against the LGBT had been conducted in Azerbaijan and that Tadzhikistan exercises an illegal, unofficial special registration of gays.

The HIV treatment situation in the EECA region remains catastrophic. Notably, only 13% of HIV+ gays receive treatment in Kyrgyzstan and Georgia; in Belarus, the said situation concludes just 6%. Only three countries in the region exercise pre-exposure pilot programmes”.

As such, the mentioned information points to the fact that Eastern Europe and Central Asia are in dire need of strategies that will be suitable for budgeting while aiming at effective HIV prevention and treatment of gays and MSM. Among other necessary measures, such strategies should be included, like programmes on de-stigmatization and decriminalization of the LGBT, sustainable financing of prevention programmes, educating the community about HIV and human rights issues.

The campaign’s facilitators note that their aim is to attract the global public’s attention to the issues of stigma and discrimination related to key population groups in the EECA region as the main barrier to an effective response to the spreading of HIV.