A dozen of NGOs and charities, which have been working for HIV-positive people since a few years ago, stated their refusal to participate in the 4th International Conference on HIV/AIDS in Eastern Europe and Central Asia, which is scheduled for May 12-13 in Moscow. Boycotters include the State Service of Ukraine on HIV/AIDS and Other Socially Dangerous Diseases. The latter explained its decision by Russian aggression. However, what this decision means for patients themselves?
As explained by experts, Ukraine’s non-participation in the event will have no effect on situation in the country. At the same time, the military presence in Crimea threatens treatment of HIV-positive people who receive needed medicines from mainland Ukraine. This fact was another reason behind our experts’ refusal to go to Moscow.
“Our position could not be any other, because troops in Crimea call into question the supply of medicines for HIV-positive people there. As much as 800 patients cannot get maintenance drugs. More than 4,000 HIV-positive are treated within antiretroviral therapy program. I am not sure that these people will get treatment as soon as the region will be finally taken over by Russia,” said Andrii Andrushkiv, an expert with the All-Ukrainian Network of People Living with HIV.
The main objective of the conference is sharing experiences of dealing with the AIDS epidemic. As our country is the leader among the participating countries (the AIDS prevalence decreased by 7 percent in 2013 year-on-year), it would have a lot to discuss there. Ukrainians’ refusal to participate will make it worse for Russia in various ways, as in that country, HIV-AIDS prevention has been less successful than in Ukraine, and many programs that are implemented here are just absent in Russia.
“Ukraine, for example, has long been implementing a maintenance drugs program for drug users that enables us to reduce the rate of infection and employ prevention among them,” remarked Olena Davis, chairperson of the All-Ukrainian Charity Foundation Coalition of HIV Service Organizations. “Russia has no such programs and methadone therapy is outlawed there, even though our evidence proves that it reduces the rate of infection in the population. Russia is now living through a HIV/AIDS epidemic, and the government provides little support and cooperation for NGOs, unlike in Ukraine. Russian anti-homosexual laws, too, hinder prevention work among this group, which is also at risk.”
By the way, the response to this statement from Ukraine was mixed. Some Russian organizations reacted to it with indifference, while some others regret loss of such an opportunity to share experiences.
“Russian colleagues from NGOs wrote to me stating that refusal to participate in the conference was allegedly forced on us by our government, but it is not true, because it was a joint initiative of NGOs in cooperation with state authorities,” Davis added. “Russian colleagues believe our stance to be wrong, and, you know, I felt aggression or lack of understanding of what is happening in Ukraine lurking behind the words of this letter.”
The conference participants should include, apart from Russia, Georgia, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, as well as international experts. Experts are skeptical on possible change of heart of our NGOs should the situation improve by May. They call upon foreign colleagues urging support for Ukraine’s stance and refusal to meet in Moscow.