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HIV Infection in Turkey

With the rapid spread of HIV infection across the world in 80s, spread in Turkey was surely inevitable, especially given its being located in the middle of Eastern Europe and Central Asia.

First cases in Turkey were reported in 1985. During those years, the infection was included in the diseases that must be reported, and reporting the infection began on the condition of following the rules of confidentiality. 

In the first years, however, famous Murtaza Elgin who was one of the first cases since the issue got wide media coverage, has been heavily wounded in the AIDS fight. Murtaza was closely followed by the media while his rights and privacy were violated, and his whole treatment process hit the headlines with discriminative remarks. A great fear was imposed on the whole country through Murtaza.

Same year, the regulation of “HIV/AIDS cases and people who are deemed suspicious and risky by means of HIV infection must be tested, both legal and illegal prostitutes and men having sex with men must be tested if deemed necessary, with the aim of scanning persons and groups who have risk of HIV/AIDS” was enforced as per Articles 64, 65, 66, 67 of Public Health Law in Turkey.

In 1987, blood scan became an obligation for Blood/Organ/Tissue donors, registered sex workers and before all major surgeries.

Issues listed below are extensively explained in the report prepared by the members of High Council of AIDS, which was founded in 1993 to steer the policies of Ministry of Health and provide an insight.

  •  Diagnosis of HIV infection,
  • Human Rights, person’s freedom and sanctions,
  • Application, statement and observation, treatment,
  • Procedures to follow during the burial of a HIV/AIDS patient.

In 1994, an encrypted data system for statements of diagnosed patients was adopted to prevent stigma and discrimination against people living with AIDS.

In 1995, green card system was enforced for the patients who couldn’t afford the expensive treatment.

In 1996, suppressive medications used in the treatment were included in the refund system. HIV treatment is now free of charge for patients who have health coverage in Turkey. National AIDS Commission was founded to execute advisory jurisdiction to draft a national action plan, enable cross-sectoral cooperation and coordination regarding the control and prevention of HIV/AIDS and all sexually transmitted infections in Turkey, and designation of national policies.

In 2002, Turkish Armed Forces Reproduction Health Program was enacted with the cooperation of Ministry of Health, Turkish Armed Forces and UNFPA. With this program, approximately 450,000 private soldiers and non-com officers were provided with knowledge and skill training on sexual health, reproduction health, social gender and domestic violence. And these trainings helped them gain a demeanour. Approximately 3 million soldiers were trained within this program.

To help people living with HIV advocate for their rights, support their rights and to raise awareness across the nation, people living with HIV founded the Positive Living Association in June 2005 with the support of activists and doctors working in this field.

In 2007, volunteered counseling and testing centers (VCTC) founded in Ankara, İstanbul, İzmir and Trabzon to provide free counseling and testing services regarding HIV/AIDS for all people, particularly the groups under high risk, with the aim of giving protective service. These centers facilitated the free access to quality and protective health services for both healthy people and people under high risk of HIV/AIDS.

In 2010, Science Board of Sexually Transmitted Infections was established by Ministry of Health to provide support for the conducted activities on the control of sexually transmitted infections.

Payment security of all citizens was ensured with the enactment of General Health Coverage in 2012.

HIV/AIDS Diagnosis & Treatment Guideline issued in 2013 is the first and only guideline in Turkey.

A more comfortable treatment was ensured for people living with HIV by including the one-pill diets in the refund system.

As the project ended in 2015, Volunteered Testing and Counseling Centers founded in 2007 became history.

Volunteered counseling and anonymous testing services revived in İstanbul with the projects developed by Şişli Municipality’s Directorate General of Healthcare and Positive Living Association. As Çankaya Municipality started the same services in 2016, number of centers has significantly increased.

To provide and transfer information on the matter through the members of Positive Living Association, the second patient association, Red Ribbon Istanbul, opened in 2016, which consolidated the civil society’s power in fight against HIV.

According to the data issued by Public Health Agency of Turkey on 1 December 2016; since the first case was reported in 1985, a total of 13,776 people learned that they were living with HIV. 12,281 people learned at HIV infection’s asymptomatic stage, and 1,485 at AIDS stage. As per World Health Organization’s data, new diagnosis in Turkey increased by 452%. While new diagnosis rates decline in the world, there’s a rapid growth in Turkey.