In a statement released at the Harm Reduction International Conference in Vilnius, Ukraine International HIV/AIDS Alliance has announced that last year, for the first time since 1999, there was a reduction in the number of new HIV cases in Ukraine, thanks to harm reduction services funded by international donors.
The trend of over a decade was reversed last year in the Ukraine, where new infections of HIV/AIDS dropped by 9 percent compared to the previous year - according to new data published on Monday at the Harm Reduction International Conference.
It would appear that a turning-point has been reached in the country with Europe’s worst HIV epidemic, where, for much of the last decade, harm reduction services were grossly inadequate; as a consequence, there was a constant rise in infection rates, mainly related to injecting drug users. This position has changed, however, in recent years, thanks to needle and syringe exchange programs funded entirely by international donors.
At the announcement of the new data, Andrei Klepikov, head of the International HIV/AIDS Alliance in Ukraine, said that with the support of the Global Fund to fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria (Global Fund) they now oversee the biggest HIV prevention programme in the Eastern Europe and Central Asia region, with a particular focus on vulnerable groups, including people who use drugs.
Klepikov told reporters that these improved results can be attributed to the large scale of efforts in Ukraine, supporting harm reduction programs in most regions of the country. In neighboring Russia, despite the existence of harm reduction programs in several cities, the scale of such programs is insufficient to reverse the trend towards increasing infections.
Michael Kazatchkine, the UN Secretary General’s Special Envoy on HIV/AIDS in Eastern Europe and Central Asia, summed up the Ukrainian success under four main headings: Strong advocacy in favor of full access to the programs; strong involvement of the Global Fund; real political commitment from governments; and the joint efforts of politicians, civil society and NGOs. All four are crucial, Kazatchkine stressed
Despite this success, all participants emphasise that within the Eastern-Europe and Central Asia region, HIV/AIDS is still on the rise, with a million infected people in Russia alone. Governments and NGOs should therefore work together to ensure the provision of adequately-funded harm reduction programs, focussed primarily on injecting drug users.