We have been supporting the Turkmenistan Red Crescent’s HIV work since 2002. In 2011, the Isle of Man Overseas Aid Committee gave funding support for this work.
The Red Crescent is making a big impact on HIV awareness levels in all parts of Turkmen society, from senior government officials to sex workers and injecting drug users.
The results of our work have been impressive. In 2010:
- the HIV programme reached over 25,397 people
- over 255 volunteers were trained
- around 5,000 booklets, brochures and other education materials were given out.
Red Crescent volunteers are key to what we do in Turkmenistan, providing important advice about transmission and prevention in a country where information about sexual health issues is scarce.
Volunteers speak to groups that are most at risk of HIV, such as injecting drug users, sex workers, the military, and men who have sex with men.
Homosexuality is illegal in Turkmenistan, and getting basic information about HIV is difficult for men who have sex with men, despite being one of the most at risk populations.
Our volunteers have also provided advice to schools, young offenders, long-distance truck drivers, taxi drivers and even the police force.
“We work with some of the country’s most vulnerable populations,” says Bahar Rozyeva, a Red Crescent trainer from Abadan near Ashgabat. “We are not always welcome at first, but slowly trust and acceptance builds and we can get our messages across.”
The latest figures, from 2003, estimate that less than 200 people in Turkmenistan are living with HIV, but a high number of drug users in the country suggests the need for a strong HIV prevention programme (UNAIDS fact sheet 2003). Injecting drug use is the main cause of HIV transmission in Central Asia.
“The friendly approach of the Red Crescent is really important,” says Bahar. “Many drug users are arrested or held in detention, but we focus on trying to change their habits, and then ask them to help us spread the word to their peers.”
If drug users are arrested, Red Crescent workers often go to the police station to talk to them and provide psychological support.
The Red Crescent was recently invited to participate in a new class designed by the Ministry of Education on healthy living.
“This is a huge achievement,” Bahar says, “because it means that we are officially recognised by the government and are valued for providing information in a fun, interactive way.”