Ukrainian Fight Against HIV Epidemic

        Though Ukraine is often combined with the rest of Eastern Europe and particularly Russia, in regards to the dangerous spread of HIV Ukraine has certainly distinguished itself. The HIV epidemic concentrated in Eastern Europe and Central Asia, which has received a lot of international attention in the past 10 years, is due primarily to the high percentage of people who inject drugs (PID). In fact, the Eastern European and Central Asia region is the only area in which HIV cases are clearly on the rise, with the number of people living with HIV increasing 50% between 2001 and 2011. Not only is the number cases of HIV increasing, particularly among the 3.7 PIDs in the area, but only 23% of those in need receive antiretroviral therapy or other necessary healthcare, far less then anywhere else in the world. In the face of the increasingly high amount of people contracting HIV, AIDS foundations around the world have been meeting to discuss the most effective methods of Harm Reduction.

 

            Harm Reduction, a term coined to refer to minimizing the spread and damage caused by drug use. It has developed to mean much more than just needle exchanges, with Harm Reduction operations for all forms of drug use that focus on the individual needs of each client. One such campaign based in Ukraine has shown results exceeding expectations. The International HIV/AIDS Alliance in Ukraine (Alliance Ukraine) offers a variety of services for the at risk and PID community including syringe exchange, information sessions and materials, condoms, STI/HIV rapid testing and counseling services. Since the initiation of these programs, Ukraine has seen a decrease in cases of HIV among PID, which has a stabilizing impact on the infection of the general population.  In 2012, Ukraine saw the first decrease in registered HIV cases in the general population since 1999.

 

            In 2011, it was shown that Russia and Ukraine alone were responsible for 90% of the cases of HIV in the region. While other Eastern European countries have similar media awareness campaigns, the significant additions Ukrainian organizations have made to its HIV strategy are beginning to reverse these numbers. Offerings such as substitution maintenance therapy programs help people manage their drug addiction and active prevention programs directed at PID are responsible for the decline in infections in the general population, which Ukraine has seen but that is not present in Russia. In addition to organizations delivering aid to those living with HIV and PIDs as a group, some organizations have been focusing outreach to women. Women are an often-stigmatized subgroup of drug users, but once programs and support groups were designed with them in mind, the Ukrainian organization Virtus for example, yielded a 50% increase in female clients and an 80% increase in women with children.

 

            While tailored Harm Reduction programs prove to lessen the volatility of this Eastern European outbreak, the question remains what these statistical improvements mean for Ukraine? Currently, they are one of the only countries with zero state funding for HIV or other STI preventative and treatment programs. The reapplication for funding will be finished by mid-May and organizations are hopeful that increased funding will continue to show strong results. This money will create the National HIV/AIDS Program for 2014-2018 that will focus on implementing programming specific to the Ukraine experience, in many ways following the success of programs like Alliance Ukraine and Virtus.