In a unique way to spread awareness of the dreaded HIV virus, Russia marked the World AIDS Day by crowning 24-year-old Svetlana Izambayeva from southern Siberia as Miss HIV Positive.
The result of the contest, which was conducted over the Internet, was announced today. Russian health officials say that the event was to showcase the fact that people with HIV are normal human beings and are not inferior in any way. However, Ms. Izambayeva is the only contestant who has signaled her willingness to come forward in the public eye to accept her award. She said that she agreed to this in order to show the world that she is normal like anyone else. She added that Russian attitude towards AIDS was similar to the contempt shown towards prostitutes or drug addicts.
It is estimated that more than 340,000 Russians harbor the deadly HIV virus. Many new cases are directly linked to sharing needles by drug addicts. "History has shown that if the leadership of a country takes a position on HIV-AIDS, and is speaking openly about it, admitting the problem and devoting sufficient funds, that helps to combat the epidemic," said Joost van der Meer, the Moscow chief of the AIDS Foundation East-West.. "But also they should show their leadership in terms of attitude that they are not afraid to speak about it, to show that it is a very serious disease but people who have it are just normal people."
Besides the beauty contest, Russian television aired a documentary called HIV: Myths and Realities in order to spread awareness.