Operation Mercy organised a conference in Kazakhstan for concerned parents, some of whose children are HIV positive or have AIDS. The participants were given basic information about the cause, prevention, and treatment of HIV and AIDS. For many parents, this was the first time they learned about the disease their children are living with.
Various beliefs and cultural traditions shape people’s understanding of the disease often resulting in incorrect information, carelessness, and even neglect. Some parents had believed – prior to the conference – that HIV/AIDS is a Western disease that could not affect them or their adult children. Others thought that only drug addicts were susceptible to the disease.
A common view among the parents was that Central Asian nationalities do not and should not live together before they are married. Virginity is considered important for women to ‘marry well’. Because of the cultural norm that assumes young people remain virgins until marriage, HIV testing is seen as unnecessary.
One mother was upset saying she was afraid for her daughter – that a man will tell her that he loves her and wants to marry her, but she will not know what is in his blood.
“How will I save my daughter from HIV when she gets married?” she asked.
Other parents struggled with the idea of getting involved in their children’s lives.
“I know my son has HIV, but he must live his own life and enjoy being with many women,” one of the mothers said.
The conference facilitator worked through many layers of false beliefs and cultural traditions during the conference, answering questions and listening to worries. At the end of the day she was pleased with the outcome of the conference, and felt confident that the parents now have enough information. They left the conference determined to discuss the disease with their children and to become advocates for them.