July 5, 2012
Advocates in Ukraine say state corruption is depriving thousands of HIV patients of antiretroviral drugs, with AIDS deaths up by 20 percent since last year. One percent of the adult population is infected with HIV, and the World Health Organization (WHO) says 40,000 people there who urgently need antiretroviral therapy cannot access it.
Activists say the government has the money to treat all AIDS patients, but that Health Ministry officials are embezzling it. A complicated drug procurement system allows the government to buy drugs at up to five times their market price, said Dr. Igor Pokanevych, head of WHO's country office in Ukraine. Had it paid a fair price, the government could have treated the 40,000 people going without HIV medicines today, he said.
"If a patient is not receiving vital drugs, in the end he dies," said Dmytro Sherembey, of the All-Ukrainian Network of People Living with HIV. "Corruption is a bulldozer that is destroying Ukrainians." He said his group recently purchased a package of antiretroviral drugs for 3.5 hryvna (US $0.43) per tablet, while the government had paid 7.8 hryvna (US $0.96) in an order totaling $1.8 million. Health Ministry officials, he said, are pocketing millions of dollars in kickbacks.
Health Ministry officials were not available to comment, but previously have denied allegations of corruption. They also have said Sherembey's purchase was paid for by the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, TB and Malaria, which gets a better price.
Sherembey is campaigning to have the government allocate $50 million for AIDS treatment and prevention next year, and he questions why Ukraine spent $6.4 billion hosting the Euro 2012 championship at a time when tens of thousands of AIDS patients may die without treatment. "I also love football; I love many things; but I love life more," he said.