Posts

HIV in Ukraine
Over the past several years, Ukraine has been battling the second largest HIV epidemic in Eastern Europe and Central Asia. As of 2018, approximately estimates determined that 240,000 people were living with HIV in Ukraine out of the nearly 45 million citizens.

Causes of Ukraine’s HIV Epidemic

In origin, Ukraine’s HIV epidemic stems from transmission through the injection of drugs, predominantly among the male population. However, as of 2008, the catalytic force driving the outbreak has shifted to the transmission through sexual contact. According to the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV and AIDS (UNAIDS), up to 73.8 percent of the HIV cases in Ukraine during 2018 spread through sexual contact.

Complicating treatment initiatives is the fact that only 71 percent of the people living with HIV in Ukraine are aware of their condition and only 52 percent are receiving treatment. Further, the war in Donbass between the Ukrainian government and pro-Russian separatists has spurred the spread of the virus as national unrest grows. Both war conflict and HIV are predominant in the Ukrainian provinces of Donetsk and Luhansk. Initially, the government made attempts to supply the areas with antiretrovirals for HIV treatment but security reasons and separatist control throughout the region obstructed the efforts.

Efforts to Treat and Prevent HIV

Following the report of 12,000 new HIV cases among citizens in 2018, the Ukrainian government designated $16 million to fund and expand HIV prevention methods and treatment services for the 2019-2020 year. This budget is a part of Ukraine’s plan to shift to a nationally-funded HIV response as opposed to the previously held international donor funding.

Working closely with the government, 100% Life, the largest patient-based and nonprofit organization in Ukraine for people living with HIV provides services for up to 90,000 patients. According to the Ukrainian Philanthropic Forum, the organization served as the nation’s largest philanthropist in both 2016 and 2017.

Moreover, in March 2019, Merck & Co. Inc., a pharmaceutical company, agreed to reduce the price of HIV treatment drug Raltegravir as a direct result of the organization’s advocacy. The cost per pill fell from $5.50 to $2.75, the lowest price for the drug in all of Eastern Europe and Central Asia. This was not the first time that 100% Life urged the company to make treatment more accessible for HIV patients. In 2016, the price reduction of HIV drug Atripla also received confirmation as Merck & Co. Inc. agreed to forgo patent protection of the drug. Estimates allege that non-patented or generic versions of the drug should result in savings that could provide up to an additional 2,800 patients with treatment annually.

Despite the intensity and duration of Ukraine’s HIV epidemic, the nation’s government and activists are continuously working to ensure treatment and prevention initiatives for the whole population. The implementation of a domestic response budget and the availability of more cost-effective treatment commence the reinvigoration of Ukraine’s approach to HIV management and restriction.

Bhavya Girotra
Photo: Unsplash

HIV in Fiji
Fiji, a country located in the South Pacific, consists of 300 islands and has a current population of over 914,000 people. Although Fiji has one of the lowest prevalence of HIV in the world, HIV cases and the risk of HIV are consistently increasing. Luckily, young people are educating themselves in order to fight against HIV in the country. They are becoming involved in this topic and trying to achieve the United Nations Political Declaration on Ending AIDS.

Meeting in Suva

In October 2018, according to The Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS), 24 teenagers attended the meeting in Suva, Fiji, desiring to distinguish the factors that would put young people at risk of HIV.

Fiji’s Global HIV/AIDS Progress report states that less than 1,000 people were living with HIV in 2014 in the country. Out of the age group between 15 and 49 years old, around 0.1 percent had a virus. Despite these statistics, HIV cases are beginning to increase as there were 68 new HIV cases in 2014 and 50 more in 2015.

In a hope to prevent any further new cases, especially in younger generations, teenagers who attended the meeting identified what could possibly risk the youth’s health regarding HIV.

UNAIDS states that attendees noticed and appreciated the steps Fiji has taken to reduce the risk of HIV, including policies created in order to establish a clearer access to HIV services for young people. Yet, the participants identified that Fiji needs to address the lack of access to condoms, harm reduction programs, stigma and discrimination.

Youth Knowledge on AIDS

A representative of Reproductive Family Health Association, Swastika Devi states that while many younger generations are quite aware of how HIV is prevented and transmitted “many of them are not aware that antiretroviral treatment exists.” This is why they desire to get and share access to this information as well as a program to attain it. Although about 300 people in people are receiving the antiretroviral treatment (ART) in Fiji, young people might not be aware of this.

Youth that attended this meeting suggested and agreed to not only conduct a youth advocacy network regarding sex education and reproductive health but they also desired to involve youth leaders from certain communities and areas that deal with HIV to increase advocacy and engagement in fighting against this epidemic. They have connected with the Ministry of Health and Medical Services in Fiji as well as Fiji’s World AIDS Day.

The UNAIDS Country Director in Fiji, Renata Ram, has also desired for youths to get involved in eradicating the HIV epidemic. She states that because this epidemic is affecting younger generations, they should be involved and lead their own communities to help those that are affected.

Inter-faith Strategy on HIV and AIDS

Fiji already had a strategy regarding the reduction of HIV prevalence called Fiji’s Inter-faith Strategy on HIV and AIDS. This strategy was active from 2013 to 2017. It involved faith-based responses to this epidemic that aimed to prevent and treat HIV/AIDS but also cared for and supported those that were affected. The strategy included involving organizations that are faith-based in order to eliminate HIV infections, discrimination and AIDS-related deaths as well as creating strategies and actions to achieve all these goals.

Despite the fact that Fiji has one of the lowest HIV prevalence in the world, this is still a growing epidemic in this country and this problem cannot be ignored. Luckily, young generations have every desire to end HIV in Fiji, and they want to help those affected with this disease. Fighting against HIV in Fiji within younger generations is not only helping to better the country, but also better the future.

Charlene Frett
Photo: Flickr

AIDS Epidemic in South SudanOver the last decade, the AIDS epidemic has been softened across the continent of Africa. The majority of countries have seen a vast reduction in the disease as effective and affordable treatments have become more widespread. However, several countries, including South Sudan, have seen an increase in cases threatening the health and survival of current and future generations. So, what is being done to confront the AIDS epidemic in South Sudan?

The Basics

  1. HIV, or Human Immunodeficiency Virus, is a virus that damages the human immune system over time.
  2. If left untreated, the HIV virus will develop into a condition referred to as AIDS or Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome.
  3. The development of AIDS leaves a person susceptible to many diseases as the body’s immune system can no longer defend itself against harmful germs or even cancer cells.
  4. There are currently more than 36.5 million people globally living with HIV/AIDS and more than 350 thousand in South Sudan alone.

A History of the AIDS Epidemic in South Sudan

South Sudan, a country roughly the size of the U.S. state of Texas, has a population just shy of 13 million. In the country, approximately 350,000 people are currently infected with the HIV virus. From 2012 to 2015, progress was made in the reduction of the AIDS epidemic in South Sudan. In 2012, 3 percent of the population of South Sudan was infected by the HIV virus. This number dropped to 2.47 percent in 2015.

Due to poor access to healthcare, lack of proper sanitation and lack of health education, the number of HIV cases in South Sudan have increased. The percent of people infected by the virus in 2016 rose to 2.7 percent and has remained steady through this year. 

Impacts

While various forms of treatment and prevention have been suggested, such as regular condom use and medication, there has been surprisingly little progress made in alleviating the AIDS epidemic in South Sudan. Despite a high rate of condom use, many people do not use them regularly, which does little in terms of disease prevention.

Some researchers suggest the most effective tool in preventing new cases is a societal change in sexual patterns. For example, polygamous relationships are common in South Sudan, including casual sexual encounters for all genders in a marriage. This has been the largest catalyst for spreading HIV to date. Researchers suggest reducing sexual encounters to committed relationships to effectively reduce the number of new infections.

Fortunately, the AIDS epidemic in South Sudan is no longer an accurate representation of the global AIDS health crisis. The government of South Sudan is pushing for increased treatment and prevention of HIV/AIDS among its citizens. Currently, only 25,000 people in the country are being treated for the HIV virus.

However, until sexual patterns change and treatment is readily available, the people of South Sudan will continue to fight the disease. The U.N. is working on the testing and treatment of HIV/AIDS for every person in South Sudan. This is a lofty but achievable goal, projected to be reached over the next five years.

– Alexandra Ferrigno 

Photo: Flickr