Testimony of Miss Anastasia Kamylk to the Fifty-seventh World Health Assembly

Geneva, Switzerland
18 May 2004

Anastasia Kamylk
Anastasia Kamylk

I am very grateful to you, Doctor Lee, for providing the opportunity to say a few words.

Good day, ladies and gentlemen. For me it is a great honour to take part in the Assembly, because history is being made here.

But first of all I would like to tell you a story. There was once a country where there was once a city, where a girl once lived. She studied hard at school, she went to college, she was a very good girl, and she always listened to her parents. When she was 18 she fell in love for the first time. He was a wonderful man. They went out together for two years. And then one day he said he was going away. “My darling girl, forgive me, because I cannot forgive myself for what I have done”, he said, and went away. And soon she went to hospital. People were very kind to her and for some reason they were sorry for her. “You’ve got HIV”, said the doctor, on 14 January 1997.

That is my story. And it is just one story among the millions of those who now live with HIV.

I’ve now been living with HIV for more than seven years. And in all these years I have been watching the processes taking place in the world in this area.

I can’t stop asking myself questions: “Why is it that the Government of Brazil has found the possibility and funds for providing antiretroviral treatment for ALL its citizens who are living with HIV and AIDS, and the governments of other countries, particularly of Eastern Europe and Central Asia, cannot do so?” “What difference is there between the value of a Polish life and the value of a Ukrainian, a Russian, a Byelorussian, a Kazakh or a Georgian life?” “Why do the pharmaceutical companies, which earn millions from the sale of antiretroviral drugs, not think about lowering the prices of such medicines and saving millions of lives?” It’s as if human life has become a nice little earner.

By signing declarations of “principle”, governments shoulder the responsibility for following up the principles of the declarations, however the real lives of HIV-positive individuals have changed little.

In the HIV/AIDS context, human rights carry on being ignored in the same old way.

In many countries antiretroviral treatment is still inaccessible.

You know that in Eastern Europe and Central Asia, most of those living with HIV are drug addicts, young people in the 18-35 year age range. And that to treat the AIDS stage among drug users, replacement therapy is needed. And in this case it is YOU who decide the value of a human life – you who enjoy positions of authority. Just think for a moment, just your signature, a single order, can save millions of lives, or it can destroy them.

To this day articles appear in newspapers with phrases like “AIDS – the twentieth-century plague”, “AIDS victims”, “terrible disease”, which cause stigmatization and discrimination against people living with HIV. And why are HIV and AIDS any worse than cancer? Cancer develops independently of our sexual behaviour and of whether we use drugs or not, and we therefore feel compassion and support for people suffering from cancer. But the problem of HIV is bound up with social morality. We turn away from those who we consider to have behaved unworthily. And we cease to see the essence of the problem in drug taking and unprotected sex. HIV is only the consequence, its roots lie deep in each individual.

We have already created a multitude of organizations and associations that endeavour to deal with the problem of AIDS, hundred of conferences have been held, and a plethora of articles and papers have been written. But what has it all led to? To a position where on this day of this conference, 8500 people will die of AIDS.

And where will you and I be?

We will be here, in this beautiful and hospitable city, discussing questions bearing on those very lives that are being carried off by AIDS, or other questions, for example, those you were discussing yesterday.

How many more meetings and conferences must be held before people living with HIV in each individual country begin receiving proper treatment and start to live without fear of what the morrow will bring, or of their own future? When will we stop counting the losses? The World Health Organization’s “3 by 5” initiative is one real way of starting to count the number of lives saved and to reduce AIDS mortality.

I believe that there are gathered here today the very people who are responsible both for their own words and their own deeds, as it is, after all, on your decision that depends the fate of each individual living with HIV. Just imagine for a moment that you have had an HIV test and the doctor has just told you you are infected with HIV. I remember that moment well.

The fear, the sense of doom, the hopelessness – these feelings overwhelmed me. What would happen now? Could I have a child? How could I tell my near ones and dear ones? Was it really the end?

The desire to be alone and hide in a corner drove me out of the doctor’s surgery at a run.

It is only now I know that with HIV a person can live life to the full. It is only now that having met during the past seven years so many HIV-positive individuals who are taking antiretroviral therapy, that I realize that medical drugs really do pull a person back from the grave. I know that I can love, raise a family and give birth to a healthy baby. But to this very day I am also tormented by the fear that in my hour of need in the future, I may not obtain what will save my life or the life of my child.

Every human being is worthy to receive medical care when needed, and every individual is entitled to receive it, whether suffering from HIV/AIDS or some other illness. And the doctor in his hospital must have all the drugs, equipment and supplies to provide integrated medical care and not flout human rights and the law.

Now, in this assembly hall are seated many people who in their countries take decisions and enjoy positions of authority.

It is YOU I turn to.

Remember, it is your great responsibility and duty to act for the good of your own citizens.

And please God your decisions will protect the dignity and rights of every individual, even if that individual is living with HIV.