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 December 13, 2002 
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Living With the Virus: A short conversation with an HIV carrier in Armenia

According to specialists, HIV and AIDS is spreading faster in Eastern Europe and countries of the former Soviet Union than most other parts of the world.

Armenia is included in the discomforting trend, as many Armenians leave the country to find work in Russia (where the disease is spreading at alarming rates) and are at greater risk than in their homeland.

Away from home, some lead lives less tempered than they might otherwise and pay the costly consequence. Others simply have the innocent misfortune of fate.

Aram Hakobyan is in the first group. He talked to ArmeniaNow on the condition that he would not be photographed nor his identity revealed.



"HIV/AIDS was extremely spread in Russia. People got infected either as a result of unsafe sexual relations or drugs or not single-use syringes," says 31-year old Aram Hakobyan. "Many people used the same spoon for drugs, sometimes even the drug itself was already infected.

"Leaving off using drugs requires super-human efforts, it was almost impossible. And in that environment I already had deep suspicions that, as a result of the life I led, I must have been infected as well. And in reality everything turned out exactly as I thought."

Aram Hakobyan got infected with HIV approximately seven years ago in a Russian city where he, like thousands of other Armenian young people went for work. And like many others attracted by curiosity he started to use drugs.

The years have passed after finding out that he is infected with HIV and Hakobyan changed many things in his life.

"Many times I tried to leave off using drugs as such a way of living was exhausting. And in order to overcome everything I needed enormous will power. I always failed. After many years of trying, one year ago I decided to return to Armenia back to my parents.

"My parents were very sad when they learned I had HIV. However they were encouraging me hiding their sadness and anxiety and I managed to organize my life. Gradually everything resumed its natural course. My parents helped me."

Seven months ago Hakobyan quit drugs. Today he has a job, friends, girlfriends and he thinks about his future only with hope.

"I know people who have been living for 15 years after being infected with HIV. One must just be careful. Everything can last longer if you don't overindulge in alcohol, smoking and drugs and if you lead a healthy life."

And Hakobyan and several thousand others in Armenia (the official number is 2,200 but specialists say the true number is much higher) with the virus wait, he says "until the day when future medicine appears and will help people to completely get rid of that virus."

Until then, as anti-virus medicines used in HIV cases haven't been imported to Armenia, Hakobyan is trying to restore his strength with the help of vitamin-enriched food -- vegetables, fruits -- and everything that helps.

"I live a full life and I'm satisfied," he says. "I have friends who know about me and they stay my friends. I have several girlfriends and I don't exclude that in the nearest future I will get married. I haven't decided yet. However, only those closest to me know about my disease."

In every way Aram avoids telling casual acquaintances about his disease, including nurses and doctors in hospitals and dental clinics.

"First of all I find out whether medical instruments are sterilized or not when I visit a dentist and whether doctors work with sterilized instruments or not. After that I say that I'm sick with hepatitis C as in no case I can tell that I'm infected with HIV. Maybe, the same doctor won't tell anything in my presence, but later the information will most likely be spread very quickly and he will tell others."

Hakobyan recalls sadly the day he visited a doctor, for reason unrelated to his illness.

"I informed him in advance about my problem. I needed to talk to him about completely different issues. I offered my hand to greet him, but he took away his hand and refused to shake hands with me.

"I think it is very important for people to be greeted at least with a handshake. And in many case it is the reason why I am careful concerning the information about my disease. Because I want to be favored with at least those signs of respect."

Aram doesn't blame himself for anything and he is sure that in this life nobody is secure.

"You can visit a dentist and get infected as it is possible they will not stick to the usual norms of bacterial purification. People just seriously lack information.

"And in Armenia people think that virus carriers are terrible people, who lead terrible lives. And these days if many people know about me, it is possible that I will lose my job just the next day and many other pleasures that make my life full.

"I fight for life and I'm satisfied with my life, however, every moment can become crucial for me and my entire life can be completely changed. I don't want people here to know that I'm a virus carrier. If I confide my secret to someone and if he or she starts to tell everyone about me I will most likely lose everything that I've reached during many years. I don't want people to point at me in the streets and keep out of my way. I wouldn't want my neighbors to find out about me as it would have changed all my life completely. People just are not ready for that."


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