Gilead Helps Launch Türkiye’s First HIV Testing Week

NORTHAMPTON, MA / ACCESSWIRE / March 19, 2024 / Gilead Sciences:

In the summer of 2019, Bora was celebrating his mother’s birthday at a seaside restaurant in Istanbul when he suddenly became very ill and couldn’t finish his meal.

“I woke up the next day with a high fever and terrible pain and was unable to move or eat for 10 days,” recalls Bora.

It was at this point that a friend took him to an anonymous HIV testing clinic. After losing a close friend to an HIV-related condition years earlier, Bora understood the importance of taking precautions and periodically got tested.

“I was stunned to get a positive test result, but after the initial shock I knew that with the therapies available today I would be able to manage it,” Bora says.

He immediately went on antiretroviral treatment and soon thereafter, the virus was no longer detected in his system.

An actor and singer by profession, Bora has since also become a peer counselor with Pozitif-iz Association – a nonprofit HIV advocacy group in Istanbul. “I want people to know the importance of testing and how early detection is key to recovery and moving forward to living a healthier life,” he says.

Last fall, Bora decided to share his story more broadly with the media as Türkiye joined European HIV Testing Week for the first time since the biannual testing campaign began a decade earlier throughout the continent. During that time, Türkiye experienced a fourfold increase in HIV diagnoses over an 11-year period.

Gilead subsequently worked closely with Pozitif-iz Association and various other partners and healthcare organizations to help launch the inaugural testing week campaign in Türkiye. As the largest private funder of nonprofit HIV programs in the U.S. and the world, Gilead strives to address unmet needs and help ensure people receive the HIV care and services they need.

“More than 27,000 free, anonymous tests have been provided to healthcare organizations by Gilead,” says Çiğdem Şimsek, founder of Pozitif-iz Association. Those diagnosed with HIV were referred for antiretroviral treatment, which is reimbursed under the national health care system.

According to the government’s figures, more than 40,000 people are now living with HIV in Türkiye, a figure Çiğdem attributes to a climate of stigma, fear, misinformation and lack of awareness and education. Young people, she says, don’t have sufficient access to sex and reproductive health education in the schools so they don’t know how to protect themselves against sexually transmitted diseases like HIV.

A recent modeling study by Assistant Professor Emine Yaylali of Istanbul Technical University projects that the numbers of people living with HIV could swell to 2.4 million people by 2040 if the trend continues.

“These are dramatic numbers, especially if you consider we’re a nation of some 80 million people,” says Çiğdem. “There’s an urgent need to increase testing centers and build awareness in key groups.” Due to this urgency, Türkiye plans to participate in the HIV testing weeks held twice a year, with the next one taking place in May.

Bora does his part to respond to the need by answering calls that come in through the peer counseling hotline. Many of the more than 5,000 calls fielded by Pozitif-iz Association last year were from people who are afraid that they will be spurned by a spouse, family member or a friend if they are diagnosed.

“They shouldn’t despair and live in fear,” he says. “I’m in a good position to tell them HIV is no longer a death sentence. Instead, it can be very manageable if detected and treated early.”

Originally published by Gilead Sciences

Çiğdem Şimsek, founder of Pozitif-iz Association, during panel discussion on Türkiye’s European HIV Testing Week launch.

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