HIV/AIDS film gains popularity

A film highlighting the plight of people living with HIV/AIDS in Kyrgyzstan is becoming increasingly popular in major urban areas of the former Soviet republic, where the virus is on the rise.

The film, entitled 'Love as a Trial' shows the reality of Kyrgyz society as it works to overcome traditional stereotypes and stigma about the disease.

"You are not my son. I do not need you. How will I dare look at people?" asked the father of HIV-positive Adil, the young protagonist of the film, while Adil's mother cries out loud as if he were already dead.

But his sister stands firmly behind her brother: "Why are you doing such things? He is alive, he is not dead."

The film's powerful rhetoric is having a big impact on audiences in the capital, Bishkek, as well as in the northern Chui and southern Osh provinces, where it has been shown over the past week on the local KOORT television channel.

"I really like this movie. It is very interesting and very good. Honestly, I am tired of soap operas. I have learned many things about HIV/AIDS and that HIV-positive people are normal people like we are, and that we just need to help them," Jazgul, a 19-year-old student at the Kyrgyz Pedagogical University, said in the capital.

Filmmakers are planning to get the film translated into Kyrgyz from Russian and broadcast it on the country's national "KTR" television channel.

On a total budget of just US $100,000, the film was produced by Kyrgyz filmmakers with financial support from the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS), the UN Development Programme (UNDP), and the UN Population Fund (UNFPA), along with training by the German development NGO, Internationale Weiterbildung und Entwicklung (Inwent).

What makes the film unique is the strong story it tells. Adil, the young hero and former drug user, is a well-to-do IT specialist, with a girlfriend named Kamila. But one day he becomes an outcast as his friends and other people completely reject him, fearing his HIV-positive status.

With no further interest in life and suffering from depression, Adil's friend Egor, also living with HIV/AIDS, helps him rethink things and enjoy the life he has. "I want to live" is Egor's slogan, who helps his friend to be brave and face challenges.

"It is the first such movie produced in former Soviet countries and I know people from Tajikistan and Kazakhstan are interested in showing it in their countries [as well]," Julien Pellaux, an information and advocacy officer with UNFPA Kyrgyzstan, said.

According to the Kyrgyz Republican AIDS Centre, as of 1 February 2006, 830 HIV cases had been registered in the country after the first cases were detected in the early 1990s. However, unofficial estimates claim that the actual number is 10 times that figure.

Although the main transmission mode is still injecting drug usage, the number of people infected through sexual intercourse has markedly increased, according to the AIDS centre. In January of this year alone, four new cases were registered, with only one contracting the infection through injecting drugs.

Of all HIV/AIDS cases registered in the country in 2005, almost 20 percent were through sexual transmission, Aigul Ismailova, head of the Kyrgyz AIDS Centre's epidemiological department, said. The remaining 80 percent of cases were contracted through drug use, compared with 90 percent in 2001.