Adoption of Russian Policies Against Opiate Substitution Has Had Deadly Consequences in Ukrainian Conflict
Back in April, Norman Fowler warned in The Independent
that the occupation of Crimea by pro-Russian forces was bad news for methadone users:
For Crimea's 805 registered methadone users, the future is bleak. Its health ministry confirmed on Thursday the ban on methadone therapy. In the next few weeks, the drug will have run out and the likelihood is that most of the users will be forced back to injecting. From the point of view of HIV prevention, this is disastrous.
At a conference panel
, Ukrainian delegates to AIDS 2014 confirmed that the change has indeed been disastrous, and "almost 60 people had been forced to move to continental parts of Ukraine to continue to access the healthcare, some have committed suicide and many more are living in pain and suffering," according to Melbourne's Herald Sun
International HIV/AIDS Alliance in Ukraine executive director Andriy Klepikov said it was a fragile situation where a health policy that was saving human lives had changed "literally and unexpectedly" overnight.
"Patients are facing pressure from Russian authorities not to move from their families, so several of them committed suicide, because psychologically they faced huge pressure: on one side they were forced to stop the treatment, which can be considered as torturing, from the other side they have huge pressure from the environment to stay in Crimea," he said.
Russian Activist Offers Strategies for Survival in "Non-Supportive Climates"
Ivan Varentsov of the Andrey Rylkov Foundation in Russia delivered a compelling presentation on "strategies of survival" despite unrelenting conditions in his nation that work against human rights, harm reduction and HIV efforts:
Traumatic Rumors: The Number of AIDS 2014 Delegates on Flight MH17 and How the Media Got It Wrong
(Credit: International AIDS Society/James Braund)
No matter how many AIDS 2014 conference-goers were aboard, the loss of life in the crash in Ukraine was unsparing, sudden and devastating to the friends, families and communities of all involved, including those of the six delegates whose loss has been confirmed.
But the early estimate of a higher toll -- sometimes said as around 100, or even more precisely as 108 -- spread as fast as Twitter, and as far as the White House, with President Obama citing it in a speech. It caused much turmoil and specific pain and grief at the conference itself. But how did it happen?
According to the Australian site Crikey, the number was first heard at the International Indigenous Pre-Conference, and came at a moment of "extreme grief":
The figure came from attendees at the Friday session of the International Indigenous Pre-Conference on HIV and AIDS held in Sydney, a precursor to the 20th International AIDS conference in Melbourne, which started on Sunday. Crikey spoke to several pre-conference attendees who said they first heard the number during a moment of silence for the victims of the crash as well as those who had died of HIV/AIDS. "During the welcome, there was an announcement about the crash, and we were told that there were fears up to 100 passengers might have been AIDS conference delegates," a conference attendee told Crikey. But we've also been told, through people involved in organizing the conference, that they were under strict instructions not to give total figures, and that the minute of silence did not put the death toll at a specific number. The figure, says one, was seized upon "in a moment of extreme grief".
It's worth stressing that. Those early hours, with news of the crash and possible deaths slowly leaking out, were full of chaos and confusion for the attendees at the pre-conference. Some people were sobbing -- terrified for their colleagues and friends in the close-knit HIV research community. People's recollections can often be imprecise in times of emotional trauma.
May everyone at AIDS 2014 have safe travel home, and may we all continue to move forward in the days, weeks and months ahead on the road to the end of the epidemic.
Julie "JD" Davids is the managing editor for TheBody.com and TheBodyPRO.com.
Follow JD on Twitter: @JDAtTheBody.
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