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|The Agony Of Being A Woman Diagnosed With Hiv by JoelSavage(m): 2:47pm On Mar 01, 2018|
In October 2012, 31-year-old Hanna Lilina, a Donetsk-native, Kiev, Ukraine, was told she had HIV during a pre-natal check-up. Shunned by relatives, doctors and the community, Ukrainian women struggle to survive and protect their children.
When she found out, she felt confuse.
"I started to clean my apartment obsessively as if people could contract HIV just by touching a surface. I didn't understand it, I was so afraid and paranoid," she says
Lilina became infected with HIV after having unprotected sex with her boyfriend, whom she suspects contracted the virus by sharing a needle with friends who injected opium.
He had been an abusive partner, and so by the time she discovered she had the virus, they had already parted ways.
"At first, it was just emotional abuse. Then he started to beat me, especially after he had been drinking. It was always worse than," she says.
Lilina left her partner to rebuild her life in Kiev.
“When I was seven months pregnant, he tried to get me to have an abortion. By the time the baby was born, he had left me.”
"Telling my family was difficult. My parents were shocked and upset at first but now they're very supportive. However, my sister immediately assumed that I was a drug addict. She hates me and wants nothing to do with me."
In Kiev, she started a new relationship. But when her new boyfriend found out about the virus, "he started acting differently around me", she says.
"When I was seven months pregnant, he tried to get me to have an abortion. By the time the baby was born, he had left me."
Ukraine has one of the fastest growing HIV epidemics in Eastern Europe and Central Asia, with approximately 240,000 people living with the virus and a prevalence of 0.9 percent in the general adult population.
In Ukraine, 35 percent of women living with HIV have experienced violence from a partner or husband since the age of 15, compared to 19 percent of women who do not have HIV, according to a November 2016 survey by Positive Women, a Ukrainian NGO.
Approximately half of the 1,000 HIV-positive women surveyed across the country had no support after they suffered violence.
"There is an epidemic of gender-based violence in many regions of the world, disproportionately affecting women and girls, making them more vulnerable to becoming infected with HIV," Vinay P. Saldanha, UNAIDS regional director for Eastern Europe and Central Asia, tells Al Jazeera.
A culture of blame
According to UN Women, women living with HIV are more likely to experience violence, including violations of their sexual and reproductive rights.
"Involuntary and coerced sterilization and forced abortion among women living with HIV has been reported in at least 14 countries worldwide," UN Women reports.
“It can tragically unfold that her husband or sexual partner points the finger of blame at her, even if her male partner was the one to infect her with HIV. In such a situation, she is at potential risk of domestic and sexual violence.”
The relationship between violence and HIV is complicated, but a significant factor is the culture of blame that surrounds HIV.
"In Eastern Europe and Central Asia, as in many other regions, the blame for HIV tends to fall on women," says Saldanha.
Women are also often the first in a couple to learn about HIV in the family as the coverage of HIV testing and treatment in Ukraine is higher among women.
Most women are tested for HIV at least once at gynecology and obstetrics clinics.
"It can tragically unfold that her husband or sexual partner points the finger of blame at her, even if her male partner was the one to infect her with HIV.
"In such a situation, she is at potential risk of domestic and sexual violence."
The consequences can be life-threatening.
Victim of Hiv-Aids: If the disease doesn't kill her quickly, the stigma alone and abuse against such patients send them to their early grave
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