- Students at the Red Village School pose with their World AIDS Day poster, 2010.
Today is World AIDS Day. And while I didn’t spend the afternoon teaching lessons to students about HIV/AIDS in Ukraine like I did last year, I did have some conversations about the situation here with some friends and colleagues.
In case you’re unaware, at 1.3%, Ukraine has the worst HIV infection rate in all of Europe. About half of those infected in Ukraine are drug addicts.
Despite this, the government does little in the way of prevention programs and anti-retroviral treatment.
Trawling my daily online sites, I came across this story in The Economist which does a good job of highlighting the HIV/AIDS problem in Ukraine.
From the story:
Ukraine and Russia account for 90% of all HIV cases in the region. Fewer than one-fifth of Ukrainian HIV patients receive anti-retroviral treatment. Botswana and Rwanda manage more than 80%.
In both Russia and Ukraine the epidemic is driven by intravenous drug use, with addicts accounting for around half of all cases. Yet the Ukrainian government seems uninterested in prevention programmes. “There’s a line in the national AIDS programme budget for prevention,” says Andriy Klepikov, head of AIDS Alliance Ukraine, “but its value is set at zero”.
Some believe corruption in Ukraine to be a reason for the lack of prevention programs:
Ukraine’s government has recently agreed a co-funding deal with the Global Fund, an international organisation, worth $85m over the next two years, but AIDS Alliance says that the government’s bit will be spent almost entirely on medical treatment rather than prevention. “They usually procure medicines at a higher price than they need to,” says Mr Klepikov. His (widely shared, if unproven) suspicion is that kickbacks are at work.
Among the Ukrainians I’ve spoken with about prevention programs, there seems to be a clear split. Some acknowledge that something needs to be done to put an end to rising infection rates, and prevention programs and education are it. On the other hand, fearful perhaps of admitting there’s a problem, succumbing to the stigma of HIV/AIDS that exists here, some believe that the situation in Ukraine is being blown out of proportion. One woman told me it was only morally bankrupt drug fiends that had HIV, and that no truly decent person could contract the virus.
Contrary to that woman’s belief, I happen to have known a truly decent woman who recently died from complications with AIDS. And I’d be willing to bet that her son, a hard-working young student now living with his grandmother, would agree.
On the HIV/AIDS front, it’s great that in parts of the world – Africa, for instance – we’re making big strides toward ending the AIDS epidemic. But there are still some places, even places that are in many ways more developed than, say, Africa, that have a long way to go. I hope a year from now we’ll be reporting a decreased infection rate in Ukraine.