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Eastern Ukraine Running Out of Meds for HIV, TB and Opiate Substitution

January 20, 2015

People with HIV or tuberculosis (TB), as well as methadone users, are facing risks of treatment interruption in Eastern Ukraine, where the Ukrainian government has decided to halt medical supplies to rebel-controlled areas.

In a press release, the International HIV/AIDS Alliance in Ukraine (Alliance Ukraine) says that Eastern Ukraine has the highest prevalence rates of HIV and TB in the country. "One in five new infections are registered in Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts (regions) which are home to nearly a quarter of Ukrainians living with HIV."

However, it adds, "HIV prevention commodities such as condoms and clean syringes are now much more expensive and hard to come by. HIV testing rates have also fallen and, with more than a million people displaced and the risk of severe treatment interruption, the International HIV/AIDS Alliance in Ukraine is alarmed at the implications both for the country's HIV response and prevention efforts and for the future of harm reduction programmes for injecting drug users in the country."

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Andrey Klepikov, executive director of Alliance Ukraine, asserts in the press release that "unless centralized supplies of vital medicines are sanctioned by the Government of Ukraine through international humanitarian organisations within the next one or two weeks, we are facing a humanitarian catastrophe in the East."

"Several OST [opioid substitution therapy] sites have been forced to close and we are extremely concerned that patients receiving substitution treatment are just being abandoned to a grim fate, which is what happened in Crimea last year where dozens died when the opioid substitution treatment programme was shut down following annexation."

The group notes in its press release that over 300 OST patients in Donetsk and Luhansk have lost access to treatment since the conflict began. Also, an additional 550 methadone patients will join their ranks if emergency supplies do not arrive.

Alliance Ukraine is the largest organization in Ukraine working on HIV and TB. It seeks to prevent the spread of HIV among the most at risk populations, including injecting drug users, and to provide integrated care services to those vulnerable to and affected by HIV.

The group is urging the Ukrainian government to "organize a safe corridor for delivery of life-saving medicines with the support of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC)."

Julie "JD" Davids is the managing editor for TheBody.com and TheBodyPRO.com.

Follow JD on Twitter: @JDAtTheBody.


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