8,000 HIV patients at risk in East Ukraine

  • 20/07/2015

Some 8,000 people with HIV in war-torn eastern Ukraine are facing a critical shortage of medicine, with a UN AIDS envoy saying their supply will soon run out unless a blockade is lifted.

Speaking ahead of the International AIDS Society (IAS) conference in Vancouver, Michel Kazatchkine called on key nations to intervene as soon as possible.

He said the treatments are already paid for and the aid group Doctors Without Borders has pledged to deliver and oversee treatment.

But Ukraine will not allow the drugs to be shipped and argues the opioids require armed convoys, despite fears supplies will run out in mid-August.

"I am calling on the United States, Germany, France, Ukraine and Russia to do something," said Kazatchkine, the UN Secretary General's special envoy for AIDS in Eastern Europe and Central Asia.

He said 8,000 patients are "caught in the political crossfire between the Ukrainian government and Russian-supported fighters" because they need both the antiretroviral treatments and opioids, which are now blocked at border check points.

The looming crisis is centred in the mostly Russian-speaking Lugansk and Donetsk regions.

The area once housed 25 percent of Ukraine's HIV-positive population, but thousands have fled, Kazatchkine said.

The 8,000 who remain are mainly injection drug users whose addictions are being treated with opioid substitution therapy, and who are also taking antiretroviral drugs to keep their HIV infections under control.

Russia bans the use of opioids to help wean addicts off drug addiction.