AMBASSADOR'S BLOG - HIV/AIDS AND NEEDLE EXCHANGES IN UKRAINE

Kyiv
17.04.12




This post is also available in: Ukrainian

Ukraine is, with Russia, amongst the countries in Europe with the highest rates of HIV infection.  In Ukraine around 60 people are infected daily and over 235,000 people live with HIV/AIDS.  So I was delighted when  Alliance Ukraine, a member of the Brighton-based International HIV/AIDS Alliance, organised a visit to Ukraine recently by Lord Fowler, Chairman of a House of Lords Select Committee which reported on HIV/AIDS in the UK in 2011 and who as British Secretary of State for Health and Social Security in 1981-1987 launched the hard-hitting “Don’t Die of Ignorance” campaign.

The 2011 Select Committee report argued that the UK needed to spend more on preventing infection, where spending was low compared with the amount spent on treatment.  Alliance Ukraine argues that the same is true in Ukraine, where they say the state should spend more on HIV prevention amongst at-risk groups.  Alliance Ukraine argues that cost-effective approaches such as needle exchanges and substitution treatment could help to curb HIV infections in Ukraine.

Lord Fowler addressed this issue when he spoke to a gathering of HIV/AIDS experts in Kyiv.  Lord Fowler said that in the 1980s he had successfully pushed through the British government a needle-exchange programme which brought down the proportion of all those infected with HIV through intravenous drug use in the UK to 2% – a figure where it has remained for the last 20 years.  In Ukraine, by contrast, intravenous drug use has until recently been the main type of HIV transmission and still accounts for over 30% of all infections.  Lord Fowler noted that the provision of needle exchanges was not necessarily a policy that implied a liberal or permissive policy on drug-use – the Prime Minister in the UK at the time needle exchanges were introduced there was Mrs Margaret Thatcher.

As always, learning is a two-way street.  Alliance Ukraine noted that recent Ukrainian lessons in reducing infections amongst drug users had been applied successfully in other countries, including Kenya.  Meanwhile, Lord Fowler’s message was clear: it is important to consider all options, including some which at first seem counterintuitive, in order to have the best chance of cutting down the spread of HIV infection – wherever you live.

Tags: AIDS, Don’t Die of Ignorance, HIV, International HIV/AIDS Alliance, uk, ukraine

Leigh Turner



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