In 2021 three new members joined AIDS Action Europe's Steeting Committee. We are happy to welcome Arman Sahakyan from our member organisation "New Generation" in Armenia and use this opportunity to ask a few questions.
1. You have been working in the field of HIV for quite some time. Please tell us about your background and how you started to advocate for the interest of people living with HIV and other key populations Would you like to share a part of the work you or your organisation have been doing that you consider particularly successful, important or in other terms a highlight.
I have been working in the field oh HIV for more than 10 years.
My activism started from my own experience when I started having some health issues. Trying to find the solution myself I made a search in the internet with the symptoms I had and faced several articles pointing out I might have HIV.
My first reaction was fear because at those times we were unaware and thought that HIV is a death sentence.
I decided to find the place for testing and did it.
Afterwards I understood that so many people are unaware, so many people don’t know their HIV status and so many people are scared and ashamed to test for HIV. Thus, I joined my organization (New Generation Humanitarian NGO) and started my HIV activism in Armenia for awareness raising, for promotion of HIV testing, and effective prevention measures, etc.
The organization has had a lot of successful works in the field but to me the biggest achievement was done in 2017 when we succeeded to “invest” community based saliva testing in work with the most at risk populations: LGBTI, MSM CSW, and PWIDs.
2. What was your motivation to become a SC member of AAE? What do you expect from the work as SC member of AAE and which benefits do you expect for your work in your organisation?
I am motivated to be a part of AIDS Action Europe Steering Committee to continue my activism on the international platform.
HIV prevention is a complex environment where community members face issues, problems and decisions which will have a key impact on the future directions and success of the target groups. I understand the importance of having responsibilities. I am ready to give my time to collect information, better understand the issues and make contributions to debates which will have a significant impact within the decision-making processes.
I know that I am now granted the chance to meet with other enthusiastic activists from all over the world and exchange my skills, knowledge and experience with other representatives as well as join the international movement of HIV prevention, apply the best practices at the national level.
3. What is your role in your organisation and what does your work look like?
I have strived my whole life to gain the right to live equally to the others. And when my friends used their resources, time and dedication for reaching their goals in their lives, my only goal was to be able to ensure the same rights and opportunities for all. Now I am braver than before, I know my rights and can protect the others from aggression and human rights violations. Now I consider my mission as an apologist of the others to freely self-express themselves without fear or hesitation. I am a human rights defender and especially ensure that vulnerable groups in Armenian do not face stigma and discrimination in their everyday life. I work at New Generation Humanitarian NGO which is one of the most active organizations in Armenia operating in the field of provision of public healthcare and access to services. Moreover, it is the only organization in Armenia which implements HIV prevention projects among all vulnerable groups – MSM and trans* people, CSWs, PWID and youth.
4. Can you please give us a brief introduction on HIV/AIDS situation in your country. What are the main challenges and main successes? Where do you see AAE can provide support in addressing these issues?
Economic crisis, unemployment, labour migration and rapid growth of HIV rates in the region contribute to the spread of HIV and AIDS in Armenia. Statistics show an alarming tendency of growth in the number of HIV and AIDS cases, which makes the epidemic a real danger for such a small country.
According to data by the National Center for AIDS Prevention of Armenia, from 1988 to January 31, 2020, 3,825 HIV cases were registered in Armenia (including 448 in 2019).
MSM and LGBT, CSWs and PWID communities are particularly vulnerable to HIV and AIDS, not only because their behaviour may put them at increased risk but also because prevailing stigma and discrimination against them in the society often prevent them from seeking appropriate information, care and support related to health. So very often they refuse to go for testing because of the fear that details about their sexual experiences will be revealed thus they remain without diagnoses and proper medical care.
HIV and AIDS programmes among key populations of the National Program on the Response to HIV in the Republic of Armenia are implemented by community-based NGOs with financial support of the Global Fund to fight AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria. Within the framework of these programmes, the beneficiaries can use the free of charge HIV prevention services - provision of condoms and lubricants, free oral mucosal transudate testing for HIV, as well as testing and treatment of STI. However, these programmes cover only two provinces of Armenia (Shirak and Lori) and the city of Yerevan. For two years, (from 2018 to 2020) support from Elton John AIDS Foundation came to complement this project, by covering the rest 8 provinces of Armenia․ So HIV services were available to key populations in whole Armenia. But the funding from Elton John AIDS Foundation was until October, 2020, and HIV services are not currently provided in 8 provinces of Armenia.
Young population is also among the most-at-risk groups for HIV in Armenia, According to the data of the National Center for AIDS Prevention of Armenia, 50.5% of HIV cases revealed in Armenia from 1988 to January 31, 2020, were among the age group of 25-39 at the time of diagnosis. This speaks of high prevalence of HIV among the young population of Armenia. Nevertheless young people are not included in the National HIV Prevention Programs implemented in Armenia.