Danylo: Positive attitudes start with teaching – and effective HIV treatment

Danylo (name changed), 18, shares information about HIV with his university friends in Cherkassy, Ukraine. For example, “that HIV is treatable and it is possible to live a healthy life”.

“I talk to people about HIV, and I’ve also organised testing,” says Danylo. “I’ve been sharing facts about HIV since I was 11, when I first found out I was living with HIV.”

I was born with HIV. I remember first hearing the word when I was about six years old but it wasn’t until I was 11 that I was properly told. I was upset at first, I didn’t know much about it so I was scared, but my mum said all I had to do was continue taking my pills and everything will be OK – and it is.”

“There’s still a lot of stigma that exists in Ukraine, and some crazy myths. Like what? Well, one rumour is that it’s a biological weapon, developed by America to harm citizens in other countries. The KGB spread the myth in the 1980s and some people still believe it now.”

“I had a friend who was quite aggressive in his attitude towards people living with HIV. I didn’t tell him that I’m HIV positive myself but I was able to change his opinion, he no longer thinks people with HIV are ‘dangerous’.”

“I feel ready to be open about my status but my parents want me to wait, they are concerned about people’s reactions towards me, including some relatives who don’t know.”

Danylo’s own attitude is very positive. “If some people decided not to be friends with me because of HIV, well that would their decision.”

He describes his mother as a great support, they clearly have a close bond. “She told me that after my birth I was taken from her for two days, they didn’t let her be with me.”

It was common in the 1990s, when treatment was not available in Ukraine, for parents living with HIV to be encouraged to abandon their newborns, often feeling like they had no choice. “My mother’s former classmate worked in the hospital, and in the evening she brought me to her.”

Danylo’s mum had to fight to keep him. He’s proud of his mum. “I thank my mum for my confidence, she has always supported me.” He’s making her very proud too.

“I’m studying ICT. I want to graduate from university and start working with an IT company. Cherkassy is the Ukrainian equivalent of Silicon Valley, it’s known for its tech industry.”

He also plans to continue his role as a youth leader in the HIV response. He is supported by our campaign parter, 100% LIFE, and attends workshops and social activities. I’ve met many interesting people, and want to work in this area alongside my studies and help other adolescents. Treatment is one of the things I get asked about a lot, how to take pills properly and about any risks or side-effects.”

Danylo’s 8 top ways to reduce HIV stigma

“My octopus tattoo is a work-in-progress. My counsellor asked me to chose a creature that I associated with. I like the octopus because it’s peaceful and it can find its way out of anything,” Danylo (name changed).

  1. I think attitudes can be changed for the better if people have facts about HIV.
  2. HIV should be on the curriculum at school and taught from the very beginning. Some teachers do, some don’t, it should be all.
  3. Doctors, social workers and activists could give talks at school.
  4. Youth leaders are important to support other adolescents living with HIV. We serve as an example to other young people.
  5. Having the best treatment options means people can live healthier lives. Seeing that people with HIV are healthy can make people less afraid. There are more affordable, optimal treatment options available in Ukraine thanks to treatment activists and intellectual property experts at 100% LIFE.
  6. People need to be aware of U=U. Effective treatment means the HIV virus is undetectable and untransmittable.
  7. More people need to be open about their HIV status, such as activists, but also celebrities.
  8. For people with HIV to live their life fully. HIV won’t stop me with anything in my life. I know I can have a good career, and I’m confident about having my own family and children in the future.