World AIDS Day: Fighting HIV in Ukraine
136,000 Ukrainians are HIV-positive. 107,000 of those need treatment and are undergoing therapy. For World AIDS Day, marked annually on December 1st, our correspondent learned what programs are helping fight the spread of the virus
136,000 Ukrainians are HIV-positive. 107,000 of those need treatment and are undergoing therapy. For World AIDS Day, marked annually on December 1st, we learned what programs in Ukraine are helping fight the spread of the virus.
Olena Shchepeleva’s husband was addicted to drugs. He died of AIDS complications in 2016. After infecting his wife with HIV, the virus that can lead to AIDS, he blackmailed her and threatened to tell Olena’s son, parents, colleagues about her status.
At the time, they lived in Russia. In 2013, Olena moved to her native Luhansk. When the war in Donbas began, she moved to Kyiv with her child, and started fighting the virus. “I had almost no immunity. I had a count of just 15 cells. After therapy, there were 0. When the HIV infection is heavy, it is the 4th stage of AIDS, the immune system is fully suppressed and immune cells don’t grow,” Olena says.
Now a social worker, Olena works at a charity organization, where she consults HIV positive women. To successfully fight the spread of the infection, it’s important for people to know their status.
Dmytro Sherembey is the head of the charity organization 100% Life. He simplifies awareness down to three scenarios. The first is an HIV test with a negative result that models safer sex practices.
But with a positive test result, “… Scenario number two: you take a test and you have HIV. This means that you will undergo therapy and prevent the disease from destroying your life. And you will live as long as other people,” Sherembey says.
Sherembey highlights the consequences of both action and inaction. “There is just one negative scenario: when you don’t take the test and die due to an unknown reason,” he said.
This year, the state has allocated funds not only for antiretroviral drugs. The Ministry of Health also finances projects preventing the spread of HIV. They will cover more than 250 thousand Ukrainians.
Volodymyr Kurpita, the Ministry of Health’s director of the Public Health Center says the distribution of condoms, needle exchanges and distribution of information material are currently funded by the state. They also fund tests for representatives of “groups outside of medical institutions, at places where they’re most often localized,” he said.
In addition to this, funds for opioid replacement therapy for 12 thousand people suffering from drug addiction have also been allocated from the Ukrainian budget.