Despite its decrease in almost every part of the world, in Eastern Europe and in the Caucasus the rate of HIV diagnosis per 100,000 people has increased by 126%, since 2004. HIV is spreading at a dangerous rate in the nations around the Black Sea, breaking the record of 100,000 new cases every year, and nearly three quarters of the new HIV diagnoses in Europe are in this area.
Hotspots for the rise of HIV are Ukraine and Russia, but smaller countries in the region are also recording rises in numbers, with decade-highs registered in Bulgaria, Romania, Moldova, Turkey and Georgia. None of these nations are experiencing a decreasing trend in new cases and people with HIV/AIDS, especially amongst drug-users and sex-workers, those citizens who should rather be encouraged to look for help, of any sort, are actually a ridiculed and a humiliated underclass. Drug users also face harsh criminal penalties, which drives them even further underground. Due to the low uptake of HIV testing in this area, up to 60 percent of the virus carriers are unaware of it, according to the World Health Organisation (WHO); so the true figure per year would be 300,000 new cases, plus more than three million people already living with HIV. Political opposition to taking measures such as helping heroin users to switch to a substitution drug, methadone, and giving them free access to sterile syringes, makes the life of HIV/AIDS positive people even more at risk.
The main reasons of this growing epidemic may change according to the different countries: while injecting drugs is the key factor for the rise of HIV in Russia, Romania and Georgia, sex has overtaken drugs as the main route for new infections in Moldova and Ukraine.
Economic crisis, war, repression and political instability have become the basis on which this epidemic has consolidated. By January 2014, there were 139,573 Ukrainians living with HIV in a country of 45 million people. The conflict in the eastern part of the country is causing unemployment and displacement, factors which are very likely to spur the rise of HIV/AIDS. Turkey is now witnessing alarming figures: it has seen a sharp increase in HIV/AIDS numbers up to over 1,000 new cases for the first time in 2012 and 1,313 cases in 2013, according to the Turkish Ministry of Health, and has got no harm reduction services for drug users or campaigns for widespread awareness. Georgia has seen record-breaking numbers in 2014 and 2015 for new HIV/AIDS cases, respectively with 564 and 539 people infected, mainly due to drug injections.
THE BLACK SEA CURSE is long term and ongoing photographic project aiming to report, throughout the stories of the people living with HIV/AIDS, one of the most massive and under-reported tragedies that Eastern Europe and Caucasus will be forced to deal with, in the next few years. A journey around the Black Sea, nation by nation: from Russia to Ukraine, from Turkey to Moldova, from Romania to Bulgaria and to Georgia. The journey of the desire to highlight contradictions in this part of the world.
The first chapter, shot in Romania, is titled: Romanian Nightmares
The second one, shot in Ukraine, is titled: Ukraine: The Other War