- Independent Journalism From Today's Armenia
 November 14 , 2003 

Defense Spending: Relief organization announces initiative against HIV/AIDs

Over the next two years, World Vision Armenia intends to spend $3.2 million on AIDs prevention, treatment and awareness in Armenia.

Funding for the initiative comes from the Global Fund to fight HIV/AIDs, Tuberculosis and Malaria.

At a press conference yesterday (November 13), National Director David Thomson said World Vision ( will encourage non-governmental organizations (NGOs) in Armenia to submit funding proposals on how their organizations might participate in the aims of the project.

A key strategy, Thomson and Global Fund team leader Garik Hayrapetyan said, will be education - specifically, carrying out programs that would attack social stigma about AIDS/HIV and aim at reshaping public perceptions.

Members of "high-risk" groups (i.e., drug users, homosexuals, female sex workers, migrants) will be encouraged to visit six testing centers that will be established throughout the republic during the first year of the two-year program.

But: "If the high-risk groups feel stigmatized, no one is going to come to be tested," Thomson said. "The biggest killer is not just the disease itself. What tends to kill people is stigma and discrimination."

Currently, Armenia is considered a "low-risk" population, meaning that its high-risk group represents less than one percent of the general population. If fact, with only 232 registered cases of HIV infection in Armenia (plus nine AIDs-related deaths last year) the Global Fund grant would equate to nearly $14,000 per case.

But the very fact that HIV/AIDs is yet in the early stages of infection in Armenia places World Vision in a position to encourage prevention, a strategic vantage point that countries now suffering mass outbreak - including Russia - might have benefited from.

"We have some experience in the former Soviet Union which helps provide a context for how we will work in Armenia," Thomson said. "Here, the focus will be more on education. It is actually easier to run programs that offer care and treatment than programs that focus on changing attitudes."

With intravenous drug use at epidemic levels in the major cities of Russia, HIV/AIDs has spread faster there in recent years than in any country except for Sub-Sahara Africa. And, with so much migration between Armenia and Russia, health specialists fear that Armenia can't avoid a sure and rapid increase of infection.

"Now is when the spread needs to be stopped," Thomson said. "Ten years from now will be too late."

If after two years the Global Fund is satisfied that the World Vision program is successful in Armenia, there is potential for extending it into a five-year, $7.2 million project.



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