UN in Ukraine Press-Conference to mark World AIDS Day 2009


On 30 November, the UN System in Ukraine held a press-conference to commemorate World AIDS Day. This year’s World AIDS Day theme is Universal Access to HIV Prevention, Treatment, Care and Support, and Human Rights.

Positive global trends in new HIV infections in the last eight years are highlighted in the 2009 Global AIDS Epidemic Update, recently released by UNAIDS and WHO. Since 2001, new HIV infections globally have reduced by 17%. The number of AIDS-related deaths has declined by more than 10% over the past five years and some 2.9 million lives have been saved as more people gained access to the life saving treatment.

Eastern Europe and Central Asia is the only region in the world, where HIV prevalence clearly remains on the rise. The estimated number of adults and children living with HIV in the region rose to 1.5 million in 2008, a 66% increase from 900 000 in 2001, with especially severe and growing epidemics in Ukraine and the Russian Federation.

The improvement in modelling methodology enabled Ukraine to develop more accurate estimates than in the past. According to the new estimates endorsed by the National Council on TB and HIV/AIDS under the Cabinet of Ministers of Ukraine earlier this year, a total of 340 000 people aged 15+ currently live with HIV-infection in Ukraine, representing 0.86% of its adult population. These estimates will be included in the global HIV estimates at the end of 2009.

National and international investment in HIV prevention and treatment scale-up have yielded concrete results in Ukraine but far more people need to be reached

There have been many successes in the AIDS response in recent years in Ukraine, including increases in HIV treatment coverage and prevention of mother-to-child transmission, and an indication of decline in HIV prevalence among young people and young injecting drug users.

 “Despite these achievements, the epidemic continues to rapidly increase in Ukraine, with approximately 19,000 new cases of HIV officially reported in 2008, which is an increase by 7,6% in comparison with 2007. Data indicates that the new wave of sexual transmission is closely related to unsafe sexual behaviour between injecting drug users and others at high risk, to their sexual partners. Thus, prevention programmes should focus on both most-at-risk populations and promotion of safe sexual behaviours among the general population, especially youth,” said Prof. Svitlana Cherenko, Head of the National Committee on HIV/AIDS and Other Socially Dangerous Diseases.

“The efforts of the central and local governments of Ukraine, non-governmental organizations, communities of people living with HIV, other members of the civil society and the development partners are commendable. However, Ukraine had made progress with only one target of the Millennium Development Goal for HIV/AIDS - a reduction of the mother-to-child transmission of HIV that dropped from 27% in 2000 to 7% in 2008,” said Ms. Yukie Mokuo, the UN Resident Coordinator a.i., UNICEF Representative in Ukraine. “All of us cannot let this momentum wane. Now is the time to redouble our efforts, and save many more lives. For that stronger leadership and commitment especially from the government are essential.”

A global 2009 report from WHO, UNAIDS and UNICEF on progress in expanding access to priority HIV interventions shows that more than 13 billion USD invested in the global AIDS response have resulted in record numbers of people receiving prevention or treatment. “In comparison to good global progress, the picture in Ukraine is mixed. In anti-retroviral treatment, Ukraine is now beaten by many of the poorest countries in the world. The low coverage is alarming given the infrastructure and talent in the country. At the moment in Ukraine, six people are becoming infected with HIV for every one person accessing treatment,” said Dr. Gundo Weiler, Chair of the UN Theme Group on HIV/AIDS. “If we fail to provide prevention and treatment services to far more people of Ukraine, we will see no impact on the epidemic in Ukraine.”

Shortfall in government financing of AIDS is undermining successful response

Actual government allocations for AIDS in 2009 in Ukraine fell 40% short of the amount named for 2009 in the State AIDS Programme, adopted as law by the Parliament earlier this year. While the Programme foresees increasing budgets to meet the growing needs, first indications are that the 2010 budget might be frozen at the already insufficient level of 2009. “Budgets for HIV are not just spendings, but investments into the future of the country,” says Dr. Gundo Weiler. “If Ukraine does not finance the full HIV response now –there will be no universal access to HIV prevention, treatment, care and support for people on the ground here, and the consequences for Ukraine’s society may be tremendous.”   

Ensuring removal of punitive laws, policies and practices and protection of human rights of people affected by the HIV epidemic and at risk of HIV are essential

In Ukraine, despite some progress, people living with HIV and those at risk face pervasive stigma and discrimination. That is a serious impediment to the accessibility and effectiveness of HIV services, and protection of their employment and private lives. Many of these shortcomings could be addressed through the rapid development and implementation of national legislative frameworks and policies to protect most vulnerable people from stigma and discrimination in all governmental and non-governmental services. Protection of human rights by removal or revision of punitive laws, policies and practices impeding universal access to essential services, and promotion of public health are mutually reinforcing.

Ukraine is in the process of revision of the State AIDS Law of 2001. “We commend this initiative and hope that the revisions to the Law that were suggested to the Government by the civil society and other stakeholders, especially related to ensuring access to HIV prevention, treatment, care and support for most marginalized and vulnerable populations, will be endorsed by the Parliament of Ukraine,“ said Dr. Anna Shakarishvili, UNAIDS Country Coordinator. “A bad law can become a reason of ineffective response to AIDS. But if a law protects rights of people, affected by the epidemic, its helps to create favourable conditions for effective responses and saving many lives. Changes or revisions to laws and regulations will not lead to improvements in human rights if mechanisms are not strengthened to ensure their enforcement.”

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