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Youngsters join Red Cross HIV anti-stigma campaign in Ukraine
02 April 2006
by Oksana Shved

Ukraine Red Cross youth volunteers say 'no' to stigma and discrimination.Ukraine Red Cross youth volunteers say 'no' to stigma and discrimination.
Kiev, Ukraine: Nearly one thousand schoolchildren, youngsters and their parents came to the “Kyevepoplaza” exhibition centre in Kyiv, Ukraine from 31 March to 2 April for the International “Country of Childhood” exhibition.

The Ukrainian Red Cross launched a new HIV/AIDS awareness and anti-stigma campaign during the exhibition. Participants sang songs, read poetry and performed stand-up plays to get the campaign underway. More than 300 school children visited Red Cross stand at the exhibition during the first day and thus took part in anti-stigma campaign that will reach 50,000 people directly and many more Ukrainians indirectly through peer-to-peer sessions and information activities.

Using personal stories to pass the message
The HIV/AIDS awareness and prevention programmes in Ukraine are deeply intertwined with anti-stigma activities and home-based care support for people living with HIV\AIDS. Material used to increase the tolerance and mutual understanding incorporate the stories of people living HIV and those taking care of them. These stories are written by nurses who do home-based care.

The HIV/AIDS work of the Ukrainian Red Cross already includes the mobilization of young adults and adolescents for peer support and awareness campaigns; the promotion of a healthy lifestyle; HIV/TB awareness among imprisoned youth; and care and support to those living with HIV.

Reaching young children and their parentes

Communication tools aiming to change the behaviour and attitudes of primary school children are now being further developed. These include cartoons, colourful flags, and attractive stickers with messages on tolerance aiming to raise children’s interest in humanitarian values such as love, trust and respect of others. Furthermore, the Ukrainian Red Cross is keen to reach out to the parents of the youngsters, as, according to national anti-stigma public surveys, adults are more receptive to myths about HIV/AIDS and HIV-positive people than children.

Playing to explain
Olya, 15, is one of many who turned out to participate in the launch. As most girls her age, she thinks about her attitudes and likes to discuss boys and get attention. She wants to be a future star and devotes most of her free time to playing the saxophone.
- Today, I decided to help my friends from the Ukrainian Red Cross youth volunteer club in Kyiv with a social theatre on anti-stigma, Olya explains.
– On stage, I am a stigmatized person, covered with stickers displaying common myths related to HIV infection. I feel lonely and play a very sad song, but then the Red Cross volunteers appear and cover themselves with the stickers as well, thus showing no prejudice towards people living with HIV. Accompanied by them, I play a positive melody full of life and emotions, she concludes.

Discrimination and myths are still around

According to an official national survey organized by the Ministry of Health, 98% of young people have heard about HIV/AIDS. However, 33% of them believe in one or more myth about HIV transmission. This means that a high level of knowledge is not a guarantee for personal understanding, behaviour and practices in common life. Furthermore, 37% of Ukrainians think that HIV-positive children should attend separate kindergartens and schools.

Discrimination is a violation of human rights, and the need to find a more effective way to reduce the stigma of both parents and children is evident. Through its commitment to the Fundamental Principles and humanitarian values of the Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement, the Ukrainian Red Cross feels that it has a unique possibility to improve tolerance and reduce stigma towards people living with HIV through public education and dissemination of humanitarian values.