“Turkey has solved the immense issue of HIV/AIDS, since the first case was seen in 1985…” — We wish we could say this but, unfortunately, we are a long way off from solving the current situation. It would, however, be unfair to say that there has been no progress or improvement, when evaluating the current situation. It would be especially unfair to the number of qualified activists, including ourselves at Red Ribbon, and to the healthcare officials that have been making great progress on HIV issues for many years already. This is exactly the reason why it is, not only very important, but also much needed, to make an adequate evaluation of the current situation before we start our new journey.
In countries like Turkey, where social acceptance is a high determining factor, progress on so-called ‘marginal’ issues, including sexuality and HIV, takes much longer. That said, on the other hand, we’ve witnessed quite a few “big leaps” on taboo issues in a very short time, sometimes even overnight. When taking a look at projects run by the state and CSOs on HIV issues, we see that most of these focus only on responses after diagnosis of HIV seroconversion. In comparison to numerous good examples from different countries, we see that, even with very limited budgets, focusing on prevention and awareness is the more effective use of NGOs’ efforts and the state’s sources, rather than focusing only on post-seroconversion treatment. With this perspective, we see that, in addition to the basic argument of HIV activism, supporting patient groups, projects on awareness and prevention is also very much needed.
Another important point to note is the lack of collaboration and cooperation between the state, CSOs, and the private sector in Turkey. As can be seen in many other better examples, collaboration and cooperation on awareness and prevention projects have had significant contributions in circulating quality information and transforming negative perception into a positive one.
A main complementary factor to awareness and prevention campaigns is HIV testing. We believe that data and sources are currently aligned with governmental health policies and we are not able to obtain unbiased results that reflect the reality of the situation. HIV has its own unique set of dynamics and needs for every step — from prevention to treatment. There are still legal barriers in establishing community-based test centers, which have been used for many years in Europe with great benefit.
We need to overcome these challenges immediately. They make the process more and more difficult for people, who are already socially fragile and poised to be marginalized. The fragility and marginalization makes their access to tests, information, and treatment increasingly difficult.
When considering all of these points, understanding the reason why projects in Turkey have mostly focused on patient groups is not difficult. That said, however, with the increasing number of HIV cases, we clearly see the need to focus on areas other than only post-diagnosis treatment.
With these points and needs in mind, Red Rıbbon İstanbul was founded to promote HIV/AIDS activism with awareness, advocacy, prevention, and support. To achieve these goals, we will:
Turkey’s first HIV/AIDS only civil society organization was founded in 2005. Within a decade, with an enormous amount effort and relentless and dedicated work, they have made a great contribution to change the perception of HIV into a more positive one. As a result of these contributions, many different NGOs targeting various parts of the society have taken responsibility on addressing HIV/AIDS and have run numerous projects.