Interview with Natalya Katsap

Natalya Katsap, Director of the Russian Media Partnership to Combat HIV/AIDS, joined Russia Today on AIDS Memorial Day to speak about the measures to prevent and fight the disease.

Russia Today: Today is AIDS Memorial Day. What is the importance of it and what actually happens?

Natalya Katsap: It is the 24th time that it is marked all over the world and it is a date that allows us to draw some additional attention to the issue, which is desperately needed even though we are 25 years into the fight against the disease. It is a date when people create some certain events to draw attention to the fact that HIV is still a big issue. It also gives an opportunity to everybody who lost somebody through HIV, to give remembrance to these people, to support people who are currently living with the virus and to just express your solidarity with the fight. Given that 25 MLN of people have already died, 40 MLN are still living with the HIV today, and in Russia alone officially 1,500,000 people are HIV positive and their number is growing. I just wish there were more news-making opportunities like this to continue talking about this issue, because unless we start a constructive dialogue about what each of us can do, we are not going to stand a chance.

RT: What measures is the Russian government undertaking to combat AIDS?

N.K.: Russia, India and China have emerging epidemics now. Over the last 2.5 years Russia has done a lot to turn its face towards the epidemic. From 2005 to 2007 the budget for the fight against HIV has grown 20 times. We are doing really well on treatment, because it is $US 200 MLN that we spend on it every year. We are getting more and more people, who need treatment, on treatment. What we are still lacking is a great effort on prevention of HIV spreading, especially in specific groups, which to this day still remains – injecting drug users, but also young people and young women.

RT: So, more money is allocated to fight the disease, but what else can be done by people themselves?

N.K.: That is a really great question because we always kind of seem to ask what the government is doing but, in fact, HIV is a problem, which any particular person, company, organisation can do a lot to fight with. If we are speaking about you and me, the simplest thing we can do is to know the basics about HIV, as knowing the basics allows us to learn how to live with it. We are living in a world where HIV is a big problem, so we should know how it is transmitted, how you can protect yourself, your partner or your loved ones and also we should understand that people living with the virus are people who are just the same as you and me and they should not be stigmatized or discriminated. We should know the basics of it to be able to live with it.

RT: Do you think the level of sexual education being given in the schools in Russia is somewhat lacking?

N.K.: It is lacking and I think that there are certain developments within the Ministry of Education and the Ministry of Health that will sustain well in the foreseeable future, but at this point most of the sexual education should be given by specialised organisations and they are doing tremendous effort. But we do hope that in the nearest future we will have a more open position about this particular programming.

RT: What would you say the living conditions allow people with HIV in Russia?

N.K.: Well, I think that they have improved greatly over the last two years in terms of the access to treatment services that are necessary to support somebody living with HIV. But the lack of knowledge and misunderstanding the virus and what it means to live with it are the main enemies we are trying to fight.