The priceless checkpoint in Riga
The number of HIV-positive in Latvia increases. “There’s a need for more readily available places you could test for HIV,” says Kaspars Zalitis, who runs a checkpoint in Riga.
“This is an overlooked and ignored problem. In the Latvian society it’s not accepted to be gay and there are very few role models. There is very little knowledge about HIV and testing in general,” says Sabine Tropa (25). She works as a project assistant at the organisation Mozaika who runs the only free and readily available checkpoint in Latvia.
The checkpoint is financed through the EEA Grants and offers information and consultation on infectious diseases and prevention measures, consultations on medical facilities and specialists, as well as express and free testing of HIV, syphilis, and hepatitis B and C.
Every week approximately 30 people take an express HIV-test at the checkpoint, five percent of the tests turns out to be positive.
A lack of knowledge
“There is a huge need for democracy for the LGBT-groups. The situation in Latvia is far from okay. We are so far the only organisation working with these issues in Latvia, so this checkpoint is priceless,” says Kaspars Zalitis, the leader of Mozaika.
“Even though we still have a lot of things that are not easy to talk about, some years ago it was totally okay for a politician to be openly homophobic. Some politicians ran homophobic campaigns just to get elected. Some bystanders were actually throwing faeces at people marching for gay rights. People were shocked to realise gay people actually exist in Latvia,” Sabine says.
The Checkpoint for MSM (men who have sex with men) was opened within the EEA Grants supported NGO fund in 2013, the purpose was to promote social inclusion for men who have sex with men by improving access to quality of health and care services.
“Without the funding we would not have these premises, or heating, or be able to pay for the phone. We would neither be able to test people, have support groups, nor arrange Euro Pride. To run the checkpoint would be practically impossible,” says Kaspars.
“No idea what HIV is”
The checkpoint has grown into offering services to everyone, not only MSM. There is a need of raising awareness and knowledge about HIV in all groups.
“Believe me, adults in Latvia, no matter gender, have no idea what HIV is. A lot of people forget to use protection. It’s not only in the gay community that HIV is increasing, there is also an increase among heterosexual women. At our checkpoint they receive the test result within 20 minutes. If the result is positive, they are given information on where they can receive treatment and support for free,” says Kaspars.
Approaching gay clubs
As a part of the EEA Grants financed project Mozaika was also approaching gay clubs.
“We wanted to go to gay clubs to lower the threshold to take a test. Alcohol doesn’t affect the test, it rather gives you courage to do it,” says Kaspars.
He remembers once a whole family came to the checkpoint for an hour of consultation after one of the family members had tested positive on HIV.
“We need to simply explain that even though you are positive it doesn’t mean you are going to die tomorrow. You can actually outlive another family member if you follow all the doctor’s restrictions,” Kaspars says.