Oklahoma woman educating Turkish workers on AIDS

Sunday, December 5th 2004, 3:12 pm
By: News On 6

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) _ An Oklahoma woman is working to end the spread of AIDS by educating pipeline workers and military police in Turkey.

Kay Zahasky, who is originally from Oklahoma City, began working in Turkey when she moved to Istanbul in 2001 to manage a sales office for a medical equipment company.

Her work marketing HIV diagnostic tests got the attention of oil companies building the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan pipeline, a $4 billion project stretching 1,097 miles from Azerbaijan through Georgia to Turkey.

Working primarily with British Petroleum, Zahasky led a team of medical professionals and actors who used theatrical presentations and interactive computer programs to teach about sexually transmitted diseases.

As the only American woman in the project, she battled contractors who didn't want to stop work for the training and a culture where sex is not publicly discussed.

``One of the greatest challenges was determining how to create and design a program that would reach a very conservative Muslim population that considers the topic of sex to be taboo,'' she said by e-mail.

At one camp, the manager told her the program would be a waste of time and that British Petroleum already had stocked the camp with 24,000 condoms.

Zahasky persisted, and her team spent more than two weeks giving presentations to 3,000 workers.

``After we had conducted our training program, there was not a single condom left in that stockroom,'' she said.

Zahasky's team traveled the entire pipeline during the summer, reaching 15,000 pipeline workers, villagers and military police.

``There are only about 1,800 known positive HIV cases in Turkey. But that is just the tip of the iceberg because people usually will not be screened here,'' she said.