Aids is spreading rapidly in eastern Europe. This was the warning from specialists at the 18th international Aids conference in Vienna between 18 – 23 July 2010. The united nations (UN) estimates that 1.5 million are infected with the HIV virus. According to a report by the children's charity Unicef, HIV is growing more quickly in this region than in any other in the world.
Worst hit is Ukraine. 1.6% of the population of between the Crimea and the Carpathian mountains are HIV-positive (compared to 0.1% in Germany), according to the world health organisation (WHO). In Odessa alone, there are 150, 000. Charities like the all-Ukrainian network of people living with HIV/Aids (PLWH) are calling on the government to take the problem seriously - but little is happening.
Case study: Lavra clinic
Now even one of the country's most important Aids treatment centres, the so-called Lavra clinic which treats around 1, 000 Aids patients from Kiev, is set for closure. The treatment centre, opened in 2002 by the then-general secretary of the UN, Kofi Annan, has the highest standards in the Ukraine for the treatment of HIV-patients. It lies next to a cloister, the Kiev monastery of the caves (Kievo Pecherskaya Lavra). 'We haven't received any explanation for the government's decision,' says Dmitri Shermbev, a representative of the PLWH. 'We have learnt that the building is supposed to be changed into a VIP hotel for guests of the cloister complex,' he expands.
'I lost my job after I was diagnosed with Aids'
A speaker for Ukrainian prime minister Mykola Azarov confirmed that the government is planning to 'relocate' the clinic. Apparently the health minister is searching for a different building. HIV sufferers demonstrated against the planned closure of the clinic in Kiev, Odessa and the port city of Sevastopol under the slogan Selling hospitals comes at a cost. Patients from the Lavra clinic sat on mattresses outside the the government buildings in Kiev as a sign of protest. Among the demonstrators are the clinic's patients Katya and Maxim, both of whom are HIV-positive. 'I lost my job after I was diagnosed with Aids,' says Katya. She couldn't be treated in the province, and so she came to Kiev. Many of those infected with HIV have to struggle with exclusion and discrimination in the Ukraine. 'It's particularly bad in small towns,' explains Maxim. 'People are denied treatment, they are simply ignored.'
Along with prostitution and drug abuse, ignorance and uncertainty are also reasons for Ukraine's rapidly growing Aids rate. The Deutsche Gesellschaft für Technische Zusammenarbeit (GTZ, or 'German society for technical cooperation') has started a nation-wide educational campaign.
Posters in Kiev also draw attention to the problem. It is still however questionable whether the campaign will reach the people and above all the politicians. As one doctor from the Lavra clinic told the Ukrainian media last week, 'We also have very influential people among our patients, who do everything to hide their status.'
The author of this article, André Eichhofer, is a member of the correspondence network n-ost