Photo by Kharkiv Media Hub: Evhen Babenko, Olena Ovchinnikova, Nataliya Demchenko, Yulia Rychkova
December 4, 2023, 20:44

In comparison with 2021, the level of detection of people infected with the fourth stage of HIV, i.e. AIDS, doubled in Kharkiv Oblast

On December 1 there is an international AIDS Day. On this occasion, a briefing was held in Kharkiv Media Hub on the topic: “HIV/AIDS: why it’s time again?”. Speakers were:

Evhen Babenko, narcologist, MC “Alternativa”

Olena Ovchinnikova, director of the Charitable Organization “Parus”

Nataliya Demchenko, regional coordinator of the Commissioner of the Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine for human rights in the Kharkiv region

Yulia Rychkova is a doctor at the regional center for the fight against AIDS.

They talked about the situation with HIV/AIDS in the de-occupied territories, the diagnosis of particularly dangerous diseases, problems with the provision of drugs and replacement supportive therapy (hereinafter referred to as SRT), the work of medical institutions and volunteer organizations with HIV-infected people, and state support for HIV testing incentive programs victims of violence and those who started using street drugs.

Olena Ovchinnikova noted that even in such difficult times for Ukraine, no average resident of the country should forget about the existence of HIV infection and other dangerous diseases: “With the beginning of the large-scale invasion, socially significant infections and diseases did not go anywhere – they exist alongside us. Compared to 2021, the level of detection of people infected with the fourth stage of HIV, i.e. AIDS, has doubled. Therefore, everyone should know their status.”

“Parus” annually conducts campaigns for free diagnostics and involves a large number of people in testing, informs about HIV/AIDS and other socially significant diseases, distributes contraceptives, clean syringes, and tools, and supports HIV-positive persons.

“For 13 years, our organization has been helping people who are in difficult life circumstances, who have risky behavioral practices and are more vulnerable to infection: those who use drugs, those who can be infected with HIV sexually. Our activities do not stop even during the full-scale invasion of russia on the territory of Ukraine – currently, our representatives work in more than 20 settlements of the Kharkiv region,” said Ms. Olena.

With the arrival of the war in Kharkiv Oblast, the “Parus” Foundation and other organizations dealing with HIV/AIDS faced new challenges: antiretroviral therapy (ART) was not delivered to the occupied territories, and there was no control over the treatment of the infected.

“We were able to organize the transfer of ART, and in the opposite direction, we delivered blood samples of HIV-infected people to the AIDS Center laboratory. At the same time, we still don’t know about all the consequences of de-occupation, because it is a well-known fact that there were cases of rape in the de-occupied territories, and ART treatment and RRT were interrupted,” – said the head of the charitable foundation.

In addition to the program for the prevention of HIV infection, “Parus” conducts the so-called “harm reduction” program among people who use drugs.

“Drugs and HIV are connected. Unlike other regions, infection through blood remains in first place in our region. As part of the “harm reduction” program, our workers were able to reach about 14,000 people, 95 percent of whom were tested for HIV infection. As a result, in ten months, 246 people were identified in the Kharkiv Region, who were accompanied to the Center for Prevention and Control of AIDS and specialized hospitals and were prescribed appropriate treatment. In addition, we participate in the program of substitution therapy among drug addicts – this is a way out of the use of street injection drugs, the transition to the supervision of a doctor, and the reception of specialized drugs,” – said Olena Ovchinnikova.

The speaker also noted that with the support of the “International Health Alliance”, the second 200-person drug treatment department will start working based on the regional clinical narcological hospital already in December.

Yevhen Babenko noted that drug addicts are the main risk group for HIV infection.

“From the first day of the full-scale invasion, the Alternative Medical Center did not stop its activities for a minute and tried to provide continuous treatment to drug addicts. We put the main emphasis on the Kupyan, Balakli, and Izyum districts, where our patients needed more help: firstly, they could not receive drugs in time because in russia such a type of treatment as SRT is not recognized; secondly, state websites did not work, and therefore there was no “doctor-patient” communication, so drug addicts fell out of the doctors’ field of view,” – said Mr. Yevhen.

A person who stops taking SRT immediately falls into the risk group of HIV infection and other dangerous diseases and criminogenic behavior. “Alternativa” conducts free consultations and diagnostics of drug addicts every day and seven days a week.

The sooner a drug-addicted person registers in the state drug rehabilitation program, the lower the listed risks will be,”Yevhen Babenko emphasized.

Yuliya Rychkova, a doctor at the Regional Center for the Fight Against AIDS, said that since the invention of ART, the mortality rate from HIV has decreased 10 times.

“By taking antiretroviral therapy, a person can live a full life and give birth to healthy children, we urge everyone to get tested and register on time at the Center for the Fight against AIDS, which is located at the address: Kharkiv, str. Fights 6”.

Ms. Rychkova also noted that testing for HIV/AIDS can be done in the office of a family doctor in district hospitals. Additional information can be found on the websites of the Center for Public Health and the National Health Service.

In addition, the speaker reminded us about the ways of HIV transmission and that in everyday life, persons who have acquired the immunodeficiency virus are safe for others. She also noted that the Kharkiv region is fully provided with ART drugs for all categories of citizens.

Nataliya Demchenko noted that the Commissioner for Human Rights of the Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine is constantly working to protect the rights of people with HIV, as well as providing them with medicines.

The speaker stated that the priority area of her activity at the moment is internally displaced persons and the protection of their rights.

“Today, no work is being done to prevent the disease in the Kharkiv region. That is why we will organize such events in the places where IDPs are accommodated, together with the “Parus”, “- said Ms. Natalya.

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