Ukraine: The highest number of AIDS cases in the former Soviet Union

  • International staff: 2
  • National staff: 15 The number of Ukrainians with HIV has climbed from 50 new registered cases in 1995 to almost 40,000 four years later. Current estimates put the number of infected people at 250,000 - the highest number in the former Soviet Union. This skyrocketing problem prompted MSF to launch an HIV/AIDS prevention and treatment program in the country in October 1999. The project has four main components: preventing HIV among intravenous drug users, a mass media campaign, information centers, and preventing mother-to-child transmission of the disease. Intravenous drug use With the deteriorating economic situation in Ukraine, intravenous drug use - responsible for an estimated 80% of HIV infections in the country - has become very popular with young people, especially young men 18 to 25 years old. Ukrainian NGOs targeting these young drug users operate in 18 cities around the country, offering preventive services that have proven to be effective, such as needle exchange and education about health risks. Where possible, they offer basic medical and psychological care. Together with the Renaissance Foundation (part of the Soros Fund), MSF is helping these NGOs increase the quality of their programs. Getting information on AIDS to those who need it most Four Ukrainian NGOs will help get badly needed information on HIV/AIDS to health professionals who are often still afraid to care for someone with the disease. MSF and the Russian organization AIDS Infoshare provide training and practical experience to the Ukrainian NGOs, through developing skills such as management and bookkeeping, and the design and printing of educational materials. MSF research in three major Ukrainian cities shows that HIV/AIDS is poorly understood, and that lack of knowledge is at the root of unnecessary fear. The organization is planning a mass media campaign to reduce prejudice toward people with AIDS and educate people on issues such as how the disease is transmitted. Pilot projects target mother-to-child transmission More and more children are being born to mothers with HIV. Hoping to identify preventive solutions that are affordable for Ukraine, in June 2000 MSF began pilot projects in Odessa, Nikolayev, and Simferopol, the three cities hardest hit by the epidemic. Medical evidence supports a drug that can reduce mother-to-child transmission of HIV by 50%, and, at US$5, this is affordable in Ukraine. Twenty mother-child pairs have been treated with the medicine, and early results have moved another city to reproduce the program using local funds. The program will begin home care for HIV/AIDS sufferers and their families, with training starting in 2001. Working with Ukrainian doctors, MSF is expanding its efforts to find affordable ways to treat opportunistic infections, in a country where the treatment for HIV/AIDS-related illness is limited for purely economic reasons. MSF has been working in Ukraine since 1999.