Ukraine: Health Scare Haunts HIV/AIDS Patients
March 25, 2011
Advocates and patients allege Ukraine's Interior Ministry is cracking down on drug substitution therapy, a World Health Organization, and UN-backed method of treating opioid addiction. The country adopted drug substitution programs in 2004 as way to combat injecting drug use (IDU) and HIV. More than 5,000 Ukrainians are currently registered in programs, and plans are for as many as 20,000 to be enrolled by 2014.
But during the past year, police have stepped up the questioning and harassment of program participants and the groups that help them, activists say. Some experts speculate that corrupt police may be working with illegal drug suppliers to halt the programs. Others wonder if Russia, which bans drug substitution therapy, is exerting its influence to sway policy.
Ukraine has up to an estimated 300,000 IDUs, and in major cities as many as a quarter are believed to be HIV-infected. The country also has one of Europe's highest adult HIV prevalence rates, 1.1 percent in 2009. By comparison, the United Kingdom's is 0.2 percent.
Last January, Prime Minister Mykola Azarov issued what AIDS experts at the time called a "bold and far-reaching" directive to boost drug substitution efforts. But Interior Minister Anatoly Mogilev has repeatedly described such initiatives a "mistake."
In a letter sent to Azarov last month, Mogilev asked the prime minister to "consider prohibiting the use of methadone in substitution maintenance therapy, as well as to commission scientists working in the area of pharmacology to develop a 'softer' drug for use in substitution therapy ... manufactured by the domestic pharmaceutical industry."
Ted Nierras, head of the International AIDS Alliance's Eastern European team, said the crackdown "does not help in reducing HIV infection and AIDS."
Inter Press Service
03.22.2011; Pavol Stracansky
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