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HIV+ Russian beauty queen to combat stigma

Svetlana Izambayeva, a hairdresser, won a contest timed to coincide with World AIDS Day on Thursday organised by a magazine called Shagi, or Steps, which is published for HIV-positive Russians.

india Updated: Dec 02, 2005 13:48 IST

A 24-year-old Russian woman has been crowned as Miss Positive, winning Russia's first beauty pageant for HIV-infected women in a step that organisers hope will help combat the stigma of the disease in Europe's most afflicted country.

Svetlana Izambayeva, a hairdresser, won a contest timed to coincide with World AIDS Day on Thursday organised by a magazine called Shagi, or Steps, which is published for HIV-positive Russians.

"If I am Miss Positive, I should be positive," she said laughingly in an interview with Russia's NTV television.

Russia has the largest number of AIDS and HIV cases in Europe. Official statistics show that 3,30,000 Russians have the HIV virus, but UN experts say the true number tops one million in one of the world's fastest spreading epidemics. The disease in Russia particularly affects youths, with unprotected sex largely to blame.

The stigma remains very high for HIV-infected people. NTV cited a recent survey that showed that two-thirds of Russians would not buy food products from an infected salesperson.

Izambeyava, from the Chuvash region some 600 kilometres from Moscow, said some of her customers had stopped getting their hair cut by her.

The contest was conducted over the Internet. Three winners were chosen, but only Izambayeva agreed to attend Thursday's awards ceremony in Moscow. Russia's chief medical officer Gennady Onishchenko praised the initiative.

"We are trying to change people's attitude with this minor action. Why can't these people live like others do?" he was quoted as saying by the Interfax news agency.

First Published: Dec 02, 2005 13:48 IST