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Science  15 Jun 2018:
Vol. 360, Issue 6394, pp. 1171
DOI: 10.1126/science.360.6394.1171

Pavel Lobkov's decision to announce his HIV status on TV.

PHOTO: MISHA FRIEDMAN

In 2015, Pavel Lobkov, a news anchor on TV Rain, an independent station in Moscow, confronted a predicament unlike any he had faced in more than 2 decades working as a journalist. It was World AIDS Day, and he was slated to host a show. His guest was the head of the Federal Center for the Prevention and Control of the Spread of AIDS, Vadim Pokrovsky. For 12 years, Lobkov had been Pokrovsky's patient.

Lobkov had never spoken publicly about his HIV status. No well-known person in Russia ever had—the country had no Magic Johnson. He asked a close friend for advice, who said to either call in sick or reveal his status. Lobkov switched off his cellphone. “Otherwise, I can call a second friend, a third friend, and somebody would distract me from doing this,” he says.

Lobkov opened the show, Hard Day's Night, by explaining that Pokrovsky was more than a guest. “You are the one I came to with my trouble in 2003,” he said, recounting the heartless way another doctor told him his diagnosis. His on-air revelation made headlines, even in the United States. And the fact that he was then nearly 50 and didn't have spots on his cheek, look exhausted, or show any signs that he was infected sent an important message to Russians, he says: You can live a normal life with HIV. Pokrovsky's AIDS center saw a jump in people coming in for HIV tests, and Lobkov received a flood of questions on social media seeking his advice.

Why did it take until 2015 for a prominent Russian to finally reveal that he was living with HIV? “We are still Soviet,” Lobkov says. “And we are still trying to keep our problems inside us.”

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