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The fight against AIDS. Life with HIV, dissidents and looking for a cure

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Mariya Godlevskaya, activist: “I learnt about my diagnosis when I was with my mother. We went out of the AIDS center and all my mother said to me was – we shall live. I got that safe space, almost immediately”.

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She tested HIV-positive at the age of 16. But she received support from the family and kind doctors – so Maria never succumbed to panic and has been openly talking about her disease for many years now.

  • She’s HIV-positive – you only need to add cemetery music to that. We are in a very short supply of positive stories. Part of the people don’t do tests and get themselves to extreme stages of the HIV simply because they are afraid of the word HIV itself.

Now Maria is an activist and mother to a healthy child. And her husband is not HIV-positive. Few know about this, but modern-day medication suppresses the virus so much that a person does not transmit it anymore. Can have a family and live long. It seems positive, but of 43 thousand infected in St. Petersburg, less than a half of them get treatment. Meaning at least 20 thousand people pose grave danger. You can meet them at a nightclub, become a client of one – at a beauty shop or a tattoo salon. Like Tasha Granovskaya, who we chatted with via Skype.

Tasha Granovskaya, activist: “I got infected through a DIY tattoo. There were ten of us – who made tattoos with the same machine, and I don’t even know who I got the infection from. It was endlessly stupid, but it is what it is. You have to be aware what kind of equipment is used at manicure and tattoo salons – single or multi-use. It’s your health and your responsibility after all”

Tasha learnt about her diagnosis during pregnancy. And now she is a well-known activist against HIV and another dangerous phenomenon – HIV denial. There are hundreds, even thousands, of the so-called HIV-dissidents. Those who think that HIV is not a disease, but a consequence of immune system breakdown cause by unhealthy lifestyle. And that it does not need to be treated.

Anatoly Artyukh, public figure: “They say – treat your pathology and HIV will go away. And they earn billions. There are countries which claim they have no HIV. You know why? Because they removed HIV tests. It is one of the Koreas, I don’t remember which one”.

Anatoly Artyukh is one of those who does not recognize HIV – although he is no doctor, but a musician. And HIV deaths among children is not an argument for him.

St. Petersburg’s AIDS center has been named Russia’s best. All HIV-infected get treatment here – and there’s no need even for a temporary registration. Unlike in Moscow. Meaning thousands of immigrants in St. Petersburg are able to control their disease. Another unique project in the city – a mobile doctor brigade, when specialists and psychologists attend to the heavily infected at their homes. In the night time, activists hit the streets and help out the homeless and drug addicts – giving them medication and helping them find a hospital.

This laboratory of molecular virus studies has been researching an AIDS vaccine for many years. The first HIV-infected person was detected in 1987 Soviet Leningrad – thanks to Professor Andrey Kozlov. He recalls the 25-year-old woman who died shortly afterwards. Finding the cure from AIDS is this scientist’s life work.

  • There are less new infection cases in the world, while deaths from AIDS have decreased two-fold, compared to peak times. But here it is growing. We don’t have an official epidemic, because we are somewhat short of 1% of the population infected. But all this is a formality, a game of words. While the situation is actually very dangerous.

An unexpected fact – the laboratory works on a vaccine with grants. That’s why the process has been slower than abroad. Where the research has entered a third phase and there are promises to rid humanity of this 21s century plague within 10 years.

While scientists are busy with creating a vaccine, experts are arguing about social awareness. 70 percent of HIV infections are sexually transmitted. But implementing classes in schools about sexual life has become a battleground for debates and even political PR. And while we are deliberating whether we should raise awareness among teenagers about safe sex life, close to 2000 new people get infected with HIV in St. Petersburg every year. The countdown is active – that’s five new people a day, who learn of their horrifying diagnosis. In perspective, this is more than in some African countries.

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