Bloomberg Businessweek (01.14.2014)
Bloomberg.com recently reported that Ukraine is making headway in reducing the number of new HIV cases, thanks in part to the country providing injecting drug users with clean needles and methadone to curb drug usage. Since 1999, Ukraine had been recording a continuous increase in HIV diagnoses; however, in 2012 the number fell from 21,777 to 20,743. Neighboring Russia, which bans methadone and other treatments and will not fund needle exchange programs, saw a 13-percent HIV incidence increase from 2011 to 2012.
Ukraine, as well as Russia and surrounding countries, suffered an explosive increase in new HIV infections after the 1991 collapse of the Soviet Union, when it became easier to obtain heroin and other opiates. According to the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS, Ukraine’s HIV rate is second only to Russia’s in Europe or Central Asia, with approximately 230,000 cases. The International HIV/AIDS Alliance in Ukraine declared that more than 8,300 Ukrainians receive substitution opiate therapy to keep them from injecting drugs—more than all the other nations of the former Soviet Union combined. The hope is to increase that number to 9,600 in 2014, according to Alliance Director Andrey Klepikov.
Injection drug use still presents a problem regarding attempts to decrease HIV incidence, with estimates that more than 250,000 Ukranians are addicts. Although a small number of users are taking methadone, the approach of treating this risk group is helping, said Charles Vitek, the country director for Ukraine and Russia in CDC’s AIDS division. “The provision of clean needles and information about the importance of clean needles and increased access to testing, all of those things work together to have a prevention effect,” Vitek said. “As long as continued prevention efforts go on and treatment expansion keeps going up, we should see a continued drop-off in cases.”