Results of a new information campaign in the Republic of Armenia: using knowledge and awareness to overcome stereotypes about living with HIV

информационная кампания о ВИЧ в Армении

In December 2019, UNESCO IITE and Arabkir Medical Center launched a new online information campaign in Armenia to help people leave behind, once and for all, any stereotypes and misconceptions they may hold about HIV. The campaign’s three short humorous videos exposing common myths about the virus gained more than 600,000 views on a variety of platforms.

Designed to bust some popular myths about the HIV transmission and living with the virus, the videos use simple life situations, such as dating, hanging out with friends at a cafe or caring for a family member with a cold, to examine what is true and what is not about HIV. This project is a logical continuation of UNESCO IITE’s and UNAIDS joint ongoing work in Armenia to raise awareness, contribute to HIV prevention and combat stigma and discrimination against people living with HIV.

The videos have been produced in Armenian with Russian subtitles.

A little bit of humor to settle HIV fears once and for all

Is it safe to share a towel with someone who has HIV? What about hugging them? What if a person living with HIV is your classmate or coworker? Can you start a family with them? Which common fears are unfounded – and where caution must be taken? How to tell truth from myth, even though some myths are so easy to believe? These are all great questions, and the campaign’s authors have been working hard to find the best approach to answering them.

“We felt that raising this serious and important topic does not necessarily need to involve a tragic and scary story which some public service announcements tell. So we decided to give the facts straight but to package them in a fun format, such as a humorous show might use. This includes, e.g., taking a situation to the point of absurdity or making comparisons between incomparable things – it turns out that such things work well in discussing myths about HIV. The main message we want to get across is that certain fears are so absurd and illogical that the only way to deal with them is to have a good laugh and then forget all about them,” says Alexandra Ilieva, UNESCO IITE Project Coordinator.

Let viewers decide for themselves

Each video is a miniature feature film: a family drama, a romantic story or a humorous sketch. Viewers follow the story as it unfolds to reveal its true meaning only at the end.

“We wanted the audience to see for themselves the difference between myths and reliable information about HIV and to decide for themselves whether or not they want to avoid the prejudice trap. This personal reflection adds to the effect of the videos which aim to inform and educate in a subtle rather than straightforward and directive manner. They are fun to watch as a good-quality entertainment product rather than a lecture on HIV transmission,” comments Marina Melkumova, Teen Health Program Coordinator at Arabkir Center.

Fewer stereotypes, less stigma

The campaign was officially launched in Gyumri on November 30, ahead of the World AIDS Day. Its launch event was attended by more than 150 guests, including representatives of the Republic of Armenia Ministry of Health, the UNAIDS Country Office, and a number of NGOs. The official release of the campaign videos and other materials was followed by a discussion of approaches to reducing stigma and discrimination against people living with HIV, helping the public overcome irrational fears, and promoting HIV testing. All participants of the launch ceremony had an opportunity to take a free and anonymous HIV test offered by a mobile clinic at the venue.

interview UNESCO HIV event Armenia
Roza Babayan, UNAIDS country coordinator for Armenia, giving an interview at the event

According to the Republic of Armenia Center for AIDS Prevention, the country currently has approximately 3600 people living with HIV, but about one-fourth (26%) of them are unaware of their diagnosis for reasons such as a lack of comprehensive and accurate public information about the virus, commonly held stereotypes, and prejudice against people with HIV.

“Campaigns like this one are essential as they encourage people to take an HIV test and, if diagnosed, start treatment at the right time”, sums up Tigran Yepoyan, UNESCO Regional HIV and Health Education advisor.

Early results of the information campaign in Armenia

The campaign videos received some 600,000 views on leading online platforms, including popular Facebook and Instagram groups, as well as news and entertainment web portals. The videos were screened on national television; one of Armenia’s leading movie theater chains showed the videos before each film* and thus added more than 44,000 additional viewers to the campaign’s audience.

The videos were produced by Arabkir Center as part of the UNAIDS Regional Technical Assistance Program supported by the Russian Government.