Community The Moscow Times - WEDNESDAY, MARCH 20, 1996, p.17

AIDS Center Puts Its Battle On-Line

By Katy Daigle - special to the Moscow Times

Newspaper photo of staff

Julie Stachowlak, left, and Shona Schonning of AIDS lnfoshare are spreading Information about the disease throughout Russia.

When Julie Stachowiak came to Moscow in 1993 there was hardly any information available about AIDS.

"People didn't know much tbout AIDS other than that they were afraid of it," said Stachowiak, 28, an American from Texas. "They would come to us with a torn and tattered book from 1986 and say, 'This is my information on AIDS. What do I do next?'"

So, along with two Russian colleagues, Lena Peryshkina, 25, and Stanislav Erastov, 28, Stachowiak founded a project - AlDS infoshare, a nongovernmental organization - to fill the gap. The organization, begun out of Stachowiak's apartment with a box of books, a small computer and a budget of $1,700, has grown into the largest AIDS resource center in Russia.

Today, Stachowiak said, the organization fulfills information requests from throughout the country, publishes a quarterly newsletter, and works to build a bridge between other AIDS organizations in Russia. The library houses the largest collection of AIDS information in Russia, including 3,000 books in the database, 60,000 articles on CD computer disks, a video library, and Russian and English periodicals.

And now, the organization is taking on a new project: to make Russian AIDS organizations computer literate and connect them to the information superhighway.

Early in March, AIDS infoshare held a two-day seminar for 40 representatives from AIDS-related organizations from 13 Russian cities, mostly in Siberia. They attended workshops on computer skills and human rights.

"We want to connect the entire region in an information exchange, so that each region knows what's going on next door," Stachowiak said.

She said information is one of the most important tools that can be used to combat AIDS in Russia, adding that one of the biggest misconceptions is that Russians don't have it. As of February, Russia had only 1,060 reported cases of HIV, the virus that causes AIDS. But many doctors and specialists say that number should be at least 10 times higher.

"I haven't seen AIDS among Russians, but I've seen piles and piles of sexually transmitted diseases, and that's the way it starts out," said Eric Downing, chief medical officer at the International Medical Clinic in Moscow.

Shona Schonning, 25, an American who joined AIDS infoshare as resource manager two years ago, said, "It's here and it is growing rapidly. But because it's early we have a unique possibility to hedge it and stop it before it becomes an epidemic.

But she added that while public awareness has grown, there is still a long way to go. According to Schonning, there are more than 90,000 registered nonprofit groups addressing AIDS issues in the United States. There are only about 30 in Russia, five of which are in Moscow.

To help bring Russian AIDS organizations on-line, AIDS infoshare is in the process of giving away 23 Macintosh computers to 10 chosen organizations. Six computers were donated by Apple USA, four by MacWay, a Moscow computer sales company, and 13 more were bought by AIDS infoshare with donations specifically for this program.

In September, AIDS infoshare will be doing a similar program with 20 IBM computers. The organization is looking for four more to be donated and is working on getting a library and database online and setting up a World Wide Web page, a project called SPIDnet.

The organization also is starting a program aimed at human rights in the public health sphere. So far there are eight other organizations from around Russia participating in the research project that will target different social groups to find out how they understand human rights. After the research period ends this year, the groups plan to put together a book next year called "The Guidelines on Health and Human Rights in Russia," which will be given to parliament and various ministries.

Eventually, Stachowiak says, she hopes to have the book published in English. "What's happening isn't because people are evil," Stachowiak said. "People just don't understand the disease and they want to protect themselves. They don't know their rights. They don't know how to feel safe in the system."

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