The Need for a European Union Communication and Action Plan for HIV, TB and Viral Hepatitis

Author: Anke van Dam, AFEW International

For a couple of years, European civil society organisations advocate for a new European Communication and Action Plan for HIV. In the World Health Organisation, new HIV diagnosed infections in European region increased by 76%. These infections more than doubled in Eastern Europe and Central Asia (EECA) from 2005 to 2014. The whole European region accounted for 153 000 reported new infections in 2015 (ECDC 2017). The cumulative number of diagnosed infections in the European region increased to 2,003,674, which includes 992,297 cases reported to the joint ECDC/WHO surveillance database and 1,011,377 infections diagnosed in Russia, as reported by the Russian Federal AIDS Center.

Co-infection in the EECA region

According to ECDC monitoring and the WHO Europe HIV action plan  adopted in September 2016, these underline the high rate of tuberculosis (TB) and hepatitis B and C coinfection among people who live with HIV (PLHIV). In 2014, TB was the most common AIDS-defining illness in the eastern part of the region.

Of the estimated 2.3 million PLHIV who are co-infected with hepatitis C virus globally, 27% are living in the EECA region. An estimated 83% of HIV-positive people who inject drugs live with hepatitis C in the eastern part of the region.

Plan was prolonged

The European Union had a Communication ‘Combating HIV/AIDS in the European Union and neighbouring countries, 2009–2013’ and its associated Action Plan.

The overarching objectives of the Communication were to reduce the number of new HIV infections in all European countries by 2013, to improve access to prevention, treatment, care and support, and to improve the quality of life of people living with, affected by, or most vulnerable to HIV/AIDS in the EU and neighbouring countries. This Plan has been prolonged for another three years. It was followed up with a Commission Staff Working Document: ‘Action Plan on HIV/AIDS in the EU and neighbouring countries: 2014-2016.’’

Already during the period of the prolongation and for three years, the European civil society organisations, including AFEW International, that work in the field of HIV, are advocating for the new communication and action plan. So far without success, despite the fact that according to the evaluation, the Communication and its Action Plan were seen by stakeholders to have provided the necessary stimulus, continuous pressure and leverage for various stakeholders to advocate for and take actions against HIV/AIDS in Europe.

Response is developed

The epidemiology of the three diseases – HIV, TB and viral hepatitis – urged the European Commission to develop a ‘Response to the Communicable Diseases of HIV, Tuberculosis and Hepatitis C’ in 2016. Next to this, the European Commission changed the civil society forum on HIV and AIDS, an advisory body to the European Commission into a civil society forum on HIV, TB and viral hepatitis in 2017, in which AFEW International takes part. This combined focus from the European Commission and civil society organisations could give an impulse to meet the needs for prevention, treatment and care for the three diseases.

Actions within the plan

The European civil society organisations developed a list of actions that should be included in the new communication and action plan.

Prevention needs to be scaled up: HIV can be prevented by a combination of proven public health measures. Yet two third of the European countries do not have a prevention package at scale. Pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) is only provided in a couple of countries.

Treatment access needs to be scaled up: treatment and early treatment improves the health outcomes of the patient and prevents onward transmission. Therefore, countries should scale up testing and offer treatment upon diagnosis and remove barriers to testing and linkage to care. Governments should remove political, legal and regulatory barriers preventing communities most affected by HIV (people living with HIV, gay men and other men having sex with men, migrants, people using drugs, sex workers, transgender person, people in detention) to access health services.

Medicines should be affordable: the price of medicines is still a major barrier to the implementation of treatment guidelines and combination preventions strategies including pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP).

Community-based services as one of the components of the health system: include and recognise community base services who can deliver services closer to affected populations as important part of the health system. Invest in them.

AFEW advocates for the plan

In July 2017 the European Parliament adopted the resolution on the EU’s response to HIV, tuberculosis and viral hepatitis. This is an important step towards a communication and action plan. The EU commissioner for Health and Food Safety Mr. Andriukaitis expressed that he is in favour, and a couple of governments also feel a need for such plan. The European Commission and the Commission on Public Health Directorate are still silent though.

AFEW International, together with many governmental and non-governmental organisations, think that the International AIDS Conference in Amsterdam in July 2018 would be a wonderful opportunity and the right moment for the European Commission to present its intentions and good will to fight HIV, TB and viral hepatitis by a communication and action plan. Civil society will not stop to advocate for this. Otherwise we feel that European citizens will be left behind.

New Technologies and Youth Sexuality Education in Georgia

Author: Gvantsa Khizanishvili, Georgia

Improving access to and awareness of health issues among youth using new technologies has become a new way for non-profit sectors around the world to advance issues on their agenda. IntiMate by Bemoni is the first application of such type in Georgia, and it is an excellent example of sexuality education using innovative technologies. It is available for download both by App store and Google play. The app has been developed by Public Union Bemoni as a part of the project “Investing in Sexual and Reproductive Health Promotion and HIV Prevention among Young People in Georgia”.

Non-profit for sex education

Georgia has inadequate policies in the area of sexual and reproductive health and rights. There are strong religious and conservative powers and gender inequality in addition to a fragile civil society that especially influences the lives of adolescents and young people. Much progress has been made in recent years in advocacy to advance youth sexual and reproductive health and rights, for example. In May of 2017, the Georgian Ministry of Education and Science signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the United Nations (UN) Joint Programme for Gender Equality to assist the ongoing revision of the national curriculum and help integrate the issues of human rights, gender equality and healthy living into the educational programme. Additionally, this February, United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) Georgia initiated an interactive learning module for evidence-based family planning called Virtual Contraception Consultation (ViC), which was introduced at Tbilisi State Medical University.

Despite these advances, there are still many gaps in advancing youth sexual and reproductive health and rights for young people. For example, there are no state supported sex education programs that exist in many countries of Eastern Europe and Central Asia including Georgia. Since there is no state supported sex education programs including information about HIV/AIDS, no information targeted specifically at young people is available, and health service providers are not equipped with the skills to meet young people’s needs for information, counselling and confidentiality of services. Therefore, the non-formal education mostly led by non-profit sector play a significant role in youth sex education.

New ways to raise awareness

The IntiMate app aims to improve knowledge of young people around issues of sexual and reproductive health and rights including HIV/AIDS. With the goal to spark the conversation around the issues, by containing easily comprehensible, fun, attractive content and to encourage participation of young people in prevention of HIV/AIDS. Containing quiz games, video information, definitions, calendar, list of youth friendly services among others, now young people in Georgia will have access reliable information on sexual health and wellbeing at their fingertips. Launched in July 2017, it already has already attracted international media attention.

Tuberculosis and HIV are the “Imported” Diseases of Migrants

Author: Nargis Hamrabayeva, Tajikistan

A big amount of working age population in Tajikistan (where the entire population is eight million people) take part in labour migration to Russia. After their return to homeland, migrants get diagnosed with tuberculosis and HIV.

A 32-year-old labour migrant from Tajikistan named Shody has just returned from Russia. The doctors have diagnosed him with tuberculosis. The man states that he spent six years working in Russia. He went back home only a couple of times during that period.

The fear of deportation – reason for tuberculosis

“I worked at the construction site. Along with several other fellow countrymen we lived in damp and cold premises. A year ago, I started feeling weak, suffered from continuous coughing, but did not seek any medical advice. First of all, I did not have spare money, and secondly, I was afraid to lose my job. If I was diagnosed with tuberculosis, I would have been deported. Who would take care of my family then? Every day I felt weaker and weaker and I had to buy the ticket home,” told the migrant. Now Shody gets the necessary treatment according to the anti-tuberculosis programme, and his health is getting better.

A few years ago, the results of the research on tuberculosis spread prevention were revealed in Dushanbe. These results have shown that hundreds of Tajik migrants return from Russia with tuberculosis.

Experts say that around 20%, or every fifth patient, from the newly diagnosed patients turn out to be labour migrants.

“For instance, in 2015, 1007 people (which is 19.7% cases from the entire number of patients diagnosed with tuberculosis) were labour migrants. In 2016 there were 927 or more than 17%,” Zoirdzhon Abduloyev, the deputy director of the Republican Centre of Population Protection from Tuberculosis in Tajikistan says.

According to him, the research has shown that most of the migrants became infected during their labour migration period.

“The main factors that lead to the spread of this disease among migrants are the poor living conditions. Big amounts of people in small areas, unsanitary conditions and poor nutrition, late visits to the doctors, and most importantly the fear of deportation from Russia,” says Abduloyev.

HIV is “brought” due to the migration

Many experts say the same thing about the spread of HIV in Tajikistan. That “it is being brought from there, due to the migration.”

Dilshod Sayburkhanov, deputy director of the Republican HIV/AIDS centre in Tajikistan, says that big number of Tajik migrants go to work in countries with significantly higher HIV prevalence rate compared to Tajikistan. Usually these are seasonal migrations, and after the end of the season migrants come home.

“Official statistical data shows the dynamical growth of the number of people who have been in labour migration among the new cases of HIV in Tajikistan. In 2015, there were 165 people diagnosed with HIV, whose tests were marked under the labour migrant category. Among them there were 151 men and 14 women, which is 14.3% from the whole number of new HIV cases. In 2016 – 155 (14.8%), in the first half of 2017 – 82 people (13.1%). In 2012, 65 migrants (7.7%) were diagnosed as HIV-positive,” says Sayburkhanov.

Statistics demonstrates the connection between international Tajik labour migration and the growth of new identified HIV cases, according to him.

Ulugbek Aminov, state UNAIDS manager in Tajikistan, also agrees with this. He thinks that migration and HIV are closely connected and result in a social phenomenon.

“There is an assumption that migrants, being in tough emotional and physical conditions, can behave insecurely in terms of HIV and thus have risks of the virus transmission in destination countries. Tajikistan HIV import issue is still in need of an in-depth study,” believes Ulugbek.

It is important to consider that migrants often represent vulnerable to HIV groups of population (for example people who inject drugs), and not knowing their pre-migration HIV status complicates the future process of HIV monitoring. Apart from that, the chances for migrant to receive the necessary specialized treatment go down. The treatment would prevent the spread of HIV to migrant wives and partners in their home country.

“Therefore, experts’ first priority task is the timely identification and quality monitoring of the disease in the countries where migrant live and transfer to, until the return of the migrant back home,” notes Ulugbek Aminov.

Experts believe that there should be a complex of prevention activities for HIV, sexually transmitted diseases and tuberculosis among such vulnerable groups as migrants and their sexual partners.

Drug-Resistant Tuberculosis on the Rise in Eastern Europe

Author: Ingrid Hein

An epidemic of drug-resistant tuberculosis (TB) is mounting in Eastern Europe, and without intervention on multiple fronts there is little hope the spread will slow. For several years, we have been hearing that there is “a need for urgent action,” said Daria Podlekareva, MD, PhD, from Rigshospitalet at the University of Copenhagen. It needs to be addressed now, she told Medscape Medical News.

However, cultural and political issues mean that it is “not always easy to adopt international guidelines or initiate research projects,” she said at the International AIDS Society 2017 Conference in Paris.

“It’s difficult to go into Eastern Europe and initiate projects and do studies,” she explained. “Some Eastern Europe countries are still behind an iron wall.”

It can be easier to conduct research into infectious disease in other places — even African countries — than in most formerly Soviet Union countries. To help curb the epidemic in Eastern Europe, the World Health Organization (WHO), the Stop TB Partnership, and the European Union should collaborate to encourage governments to recognize TB as a public health emergency and to implement international programs and standards of care, said Dr Podlekareva.

Eastern Europe Is a “Perfect Storm” for TB

TB continues to be a major public health issue, according to the 2017 WHO report — Tuberculosis Surveillance and Monitoring Report in Europe 2017 — released in March. Most of the 323,000 new TB cases and the 32,000 deaths due to TB in the WHO European Region in 2015 occurred in Eastern Europe and Central Asia.

Eastern Europe is a “perfect storm” for the spread of TB because it has high rates of incarceration, HIV infection, and injection drug use, and it has disintegrated healthcare systems, suboptimal TB diagnosis and treatment, and poor adherence rates, Dr Podlekareva said.

In addition, nearly half of all TB cases are multidrug-resistant, which requires longer, more expensive treatment than drug-susceptible TB, and leads to more adverse effects. Treatment is also less accessible in the region.

And because rates of HIV infection are on the rise in Eastern Europe, where antiretroviral therapy coverage is low, the fast progression of immunosuppression leads to increases in the rate of TB and HIV coinfection.

More Likely to Die From TB in Eastern Europe

In an international cohort study on the management of concurrent HIV and TB, Dr Podlekareva and her colleagues found that TB-related deaths were significantly more common in Eastern Europe than in Western Europe or Latin America (Lancet HIV2016;3:e120-e131).

In that study, 1406 consecutive HIV-positive patients aged 16 years or older with a tuberculosis diagnosis were followed up for 12 months at one of 62 HIV and tuberculosis clinics in 19 countries.

The prognosis was far worse for the 834 patients treated in Eastern Europe than for the 317 treated in Western Europe or the 255 treated in Latin America.

Of the 264 (19%) deaths in the study cohort, 188 (71%) were related to tuberculosis.

Cause of Death Eastern Europe, % Western Europe, % Latin America, % P-Value
All 29 4 11 <.0001
TB 23 1 4 <.0001
 “Latin America and Eastern Europe have comparable economies, as middle-or poor-resource settings,” Dr Podlekareva said. But “Latin American patients did better — much better — than the Eastern European patients.”

In Eastern Europe, diagnosis is often made on the basis of clinical judgment, not laboratory confirmation, she pointed out. And treatment is often suboptimal, including very few active drugs. Moreover, disintegrated healthcare systems in Eastern Europe are detrimental to treatment, and care centers for TB and HIV are not combined. Plus, opiate-substitution therapy — an effective treatment for drug dependence — is limited or prohibited in most regions.

“Nearly 40% of our cohort had multidrug-resistant TB,” Dr Podlekareva reported.

Eastern Europe does not have to invent its own solutions; it can adopt “what we already know,” she told Medscape Medical News. Experience from the 1980s HIV epidemic in Western countries can be a guide. There are thousands of publications on the strategies and standards of care that work.

Prisons and Drugs Contribute

In Russia, illicit drug use is a criminal offense, and “methadone treatment is prohibited,” Dr Podlekareva said. “In Eastern European countries, like the Ukraine and Belarus, there are some drug-treatment programs, but they are not widely used as a standard of care.”

With no methadone support and very few social supports for injection drug users, access to treatment, adherence, and retention in care are a challenge.

Clinicians need to ramp up their efforts to convince patients to get treated. “There is a need for clinicians to be more willing to work together, to support these patients,” she said. “When we ask why a patient is not on antiretroviral therapy, they say the patient refused it, but I think it’s the clinician’s task to convince the patient.”

When injection drug users are thrown in jail, as they are in Russia, TB transmission proliferates, Dr Podlekareva explained. A previous study showed that intrapopulation transmission in prisons, population-to-prison transmission, intraprison transmission, and prison-to-population transmission have driven overall population-level differences in TB incidence, prevalence, and mortality rates in countries of the former Soviet Union (Proc Natl Acad Sci USA.2008;105:13280-13285. 

She is not alone in her assessment. “The problem in Eastern Europe will not go away, especially multidrug-resistant TB, if the infrastructure is not improved,” said Christoph Lange, MD, from the tuberculosis unit of the German Center for Infection Research and Research Center Borstel in Germany.

“Patients have been getting treatment on and off,” so new strains of multidrug-resistant TB are emerging, he told Medscape Medical News. “People are now getting infected with drug-resistant strains,” and most Eastern European countries are not equipped to treat multidrug-resistant TB.

Dr Lange said that in the past year he has seen five Armenian patients with multidrug-resistant TB looking for treatment at his clinic. He referred to them as “health-seeking migrants,” and said, “we expect to see more.”

“The number of people with drug-resistant TB is increasing more than 20% every year,” he reported. The current targets of elimination are not credible and they don’t work under the current circumstances; health organizations and governments have to acknowledge that.

“Instead of having the goal of elimination, we need to work toward low incidence,” Dr Lange said. “We have to redefine our goals and address what is most endangering public health.”

Drs Podlekareva and Lange have disclosed no relevant financial relationships.

Source: International AIDS Society (IAS) 2017 Conference. Presented July 2017.

AFEW’s Intern Researches PrEP in Kazakhstan

Is Kazakhstan prepared for pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP)? Master student majoring in International Public Health at VU University in Amsterdam Marieke Bak was finding the answer to this question during her recent internship with AFEW International. For this reason, she spent five months in Almaty, Kazakhstan, doing her research.

“For the past five months, I have had the opportunity to do an internship at AFEW International,” says Marieke. “From the start, I felt very welcome in this inspiring organisation and it was great to experience what it is like to work for an NGO. As part of my internship, I went to Kazakhstan to explore the potential implementation of a new HIV prevention method among men who have sex with men. The interviews were incredibly interesting and I learned a lot from the people I met. Moreover, I had the opportunity to do some travelling, which made me fall in love with the region. I hope to go back there someday and I will keep following the work of AFEW with much interest.”

The global HIV/AIDS epidemic remains a major public health issue. Among the countries with the fastest accelerating incidence rates is Kazakhstan, which is characterised by a concentrated epidemic among key populations. Addressing the epidemic requires effective primary prevention, but current methods are often of limited use. PrEP is a new method of HIV prevention consisting of a daily pill combining two anti-retroviral drugs, which has been found very effective when taken consistently. Generally, men who have sex with men (MSM) are seen as the target group for PrEP. As the most developed country in Central Asia, it seems that Kazakhstan could act as a frontrunner in providing PrEP. However, in order to inform the implementation of PrEP, there is a need to understand the awareness and attitudes of MSM towards this new method.

The aim of Marieke Bak’s study was to explore the possibilities for future PrEP initiatives in Kazakhstan by investigating the potential of this prevention method among men who have sex with men. You can find the report on the study findings here.

The Path to the Self-Financing of the HIV Programmes in Kyrgyzstan

Author: Olga Ochneva, Kyrgyzstan

A significant reduction of funding for the programs against HIV infection was registered during the recent years in Kyrgyzstan. Last year the news that the Global Fund – the main donor of the HIV and tuberculosis programmes in the country – cuts their funding, got into the headlines.

Needs and opportunities

Funding for HIV programmes from the Global Fund over the past two years in the country has actually decreased by 30%, from $7.5 million in 2014 to $5 million in 2016 and 2017. The trend continues to grow: in the application for 2018-2020 only $3.7 million per year were pre-approved, and that is one more million less than before.

“$7.8 million per year are divided in the new Global Fund application between HIV and tuberculosis, but previously such amount of money was allocated only for HIV. Notice that reduction of funding comes amid the growth of demands. The situation with HIV in the country is now getting close to the concentrated phase, and the number of people on treatment over the past two years has grown almost twice,” said the head of Harm reduction programmes association “Partner Network” Aybar Sultangaziyev. “We have enough funds for this year, but in the next three years we expect the budget gap to grow. Only for persons who need treatment – about 6,000 people – we need $3.5 million by 2020, but for HIV we only have $3.7 million allocated in the budget.”

From donor to national funding

The general global trend of reducing grant support and the rise of Kyrgyzstan in the qualification of the World Bank from the level of countries with low income to the level of countries with lower middle income encourages the transition of the country to national funding. It is a difficult process for the state, because from the very beginning the prevention programmes in the country (about 15 years) were funded by international donors.

Ulan Kadyrbekov

“Previously money from the state budget was allocated only to support infrastructure and salaries of the AIDS-service employees,” Director of the Republican AIDS-center Ulan Kadyrbekov says. “Starting from the year before last, the state started to allocate 20 million soms ($289 thousand) annually for HIV programmes. The condition of awarding $11 million grant for HIV from the Global Fund for the next three years was the state contribution of 15% of the whole grant amount. Nowadays we set the national program on overcoming HIV in the Kyrgyz Republic until 2021 and in the budget we have allocated these 15% of the national contribution.”

Until the last November it was not clear if Kyrgyzstan receives the Global Fund money or not. This fact became the main argument for the civil sector in their work on promotion of national funding.

“In fact, the result of our work was the development of the roadmap, i.e. the transition plan to national funding, which comes as an addition to the National program on overcoming HIV,” says Aybar Sultangaziev. “In addition to already allocated budget we have received further 23 mln. soms ($333 thousand) in 2018 and 50 million soms ($725 thousand) per year starting from 2019. It is still not enough. In fact, we requested up to 4.5 times more in 2018 and 2.5 times more starting from 2019 from the state budget.”

Now the National program for overcoming HIV in the Kyrgyz Republic until 2021 and Roadmap for the transition to national funding are submitted to the Government of Kyrgyzstan. The program must be approved this August. It will become known if this money is included in the Republican budget by the end of 2017.

Costs saving and optimization

Upon the condition that the government will fulfill the financial obligations under the National program until 2021 and the country will receive donor funds, there still will be a deficit in the amount of $1.5 million per year. Global Fund’s money has not been finally divided between programme activities. It will be decided which expenditure headings will be underfunded in the nearest future.

Aybar Sultangaziev

“We expect that deficits will be covered by funding from the other donors and by reduction of preventive measures,” Aybar Sultangaziev is saying. “For example, it is likely that we will close social centers. Nowadays six social centers are already closed, we excluded the treatment of STIs (sexually transmitted infections – ed.), we also partly excluded diagnosis and treatment of opportunistic infections, we decreased the number of condoms and syringes for distribution. There are other donors for HIV in our country, the largest of which is the USAID project Flagship. It allocates about $700 thousand a year on drug users. With this money we are able to cut funds from the budget of the Global Fund for this group. Now we have a narrower task of responding to the epidemic. Therefore, the only must have budget items are methadone and antiretroviral (ARV) drugs. We are trying to increase or at least keep these budget lines at the same level.”

Another step in cost optimization and in the transition to national funding is the transfer of control of Global Fund grants from the current recipient – UNDP – to the Ministry of health. Experts predict that it will happen no earlier than during the second half of 2018, as the Ministry of health needs to get prepared.

“Nowadays the treatment is provided by the Global Fund. Even after funds were allocated in the national budget, we still cannot use them for the purchase of ARVs for key vulnerable groups, because there is no mechanism for procurement of drugs and for social procurement. Our priority is to provide all the necessary documents for these procedures,” Ulan Kadyrbekov said. “Thanks to funds reallocation and optimum employment of resources, the National programme for the next three years will be able to slow down the spread of HIV. Even now we have good chances to reach the 2020 UNAIDS goals of 90-90-90. The process of transition to national funding and running programs in the face of cutbacks of donor funding is a great challenge. The Ministry of Health has already submitted the preliminary topics of presentations at the conference AIDS 2018 in Amsterdam, I think, by July of the next year we will have a great practical experience to share.”

How Kyiv Fights the HIV/AIDS Epidemic

Author: Yana Kazmirenko, Ukraine

The adoption of the Fast-Track Cities strategy resulted in launching of the HIV express-testing in all outpatient clinics in Ukraine’s capital. The strategy also allowed to increase the number of people who receive antiretroviral therapy.

The struggle against HIV/AIDS epidemic in Kyiv strengthened since the mayor Vitaliy Klitschko, signed the declaration in Paris. Apart from that, Kyiv was included into the Fast-Track Cities programme in April 2016 as a measure to fight AIDS. According to this programme, 90% of the citizens in 2020 should know about the disease, 90% of the infected ones should be getting treatment, and the treatment should be effective for 90% of the patients.

In the latest United Nations agency report on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS) and UN-Habitat as of 2015, the Ukraine’s capital entered the list of 27 most HIV/AIDS infected cities in the world. Alexander Yurchenko, the head physician at Kyiv AIDS centre, hopes that Kyiv will not be included into the newest rating. The programme has seen first success. 800 medical workers were trained, and every outpatient clinic in Kyiv received express-tests. The result of the test is available in as little as 20 minutes. There were 2,500 more individuals (compared with the previous year) who had tested their blood in a year.

A record amount of 555 people was included into the dispensary registration with the help of express-testing only over the first quarter of 2017. To compare: only 1300 people were registered in 2016, according to Yurchenko.

In his opinion, the situation in Ukraine’s capital with a population of three million people has improved. There were only around 5,000 people getting treatment in 2012, and now there are more than 7,000. It is planned to give treatment to 12,000 people by the end of the year.

Migrants and HIV

Yurchenko attributes Kyiv’s high position in the world ratings of HIV spread due to its attractiveness for migrants. 400,000 people come to work in the capital daily.

“Men who have sex with men (MSM) also tend to come to Kyiv, as it is hard for them to even live in such regional centre as Cherkassy. They attract a lot of attention in smaller cities. In the capital, they can find work, hide themselves, and find partners,” continues the interviewee.

The prevailing factor of HIV spread in Kyiv in 2012 was an injecting way of transmission. Now the predominant way has shifted to sexual transmission.

For instance, the story of the oldest patient in the capital of Ukraine. The man admitted that his wife was refusing sexual intercourse with him and he had to use the services of sex workers.

“Doctor, now I know what I will die from,” the old patient said jokingly, after he heard his diagnosis.

“According to statistics, you will die from cardiac ischemia, but we will control and monitor your HIV,” Yurchenko remembers his dialogue with the patient.

Surviving thanks to the Foundations

Kyiv’s mayor Vitaliy Klitschko stressed that one of the main responsibilities that Kyiv took within the framework of the Fast-Track Cities programme is the provision of sufficient amount of antiretroviral medicines for treatment of people diagnosed with HIV/AIDS.

There would be significant progress in the implementation of the Fast-Track strategy if the government did not delay the supplies of medicines for antiretroviral therapy. This leads to patients receiving one month course of treatment instead of six or three months’ courses.

The variety of options in treatment schemes (around 38 of them) does not yet allow to pass the dispensing of medicines to the family doctors’ level. Yurchenko promised that there will be two or three variants of treatment made, and they will be passed on to the outpatient clinics as soon as the government supplies of medicines are in full scope.

Now patients literally survive at the expense of international and private foundations. On July 11, Kyiv has become the first Eastern European city where HIV-positive patients received dolutegravir (sixth generation medicine for antiretroviral therapy) at the expense of the Elena Pinchuk ANTI AIDS Foundation. The yearly course of medications will cost $170. This allows to increase the number of people who will receive the life-saving treatment in as early as 2018 at no additional cost.

The adoption of the law on mandatory HIV testing* can also bring the capital closer to the standards implemented by Fast-Track Cities. Alexander Yurchenko says that this law might be enacted by the end of the year.

As estimated by the experts, the number of HIV/AIDS infected people in the capital is 23,000 inhabitants. This is the tenth of the estimated figures in Ukraine – 250,000. There were 304,914 officially registered new cases of HIV infection in Ukraine since 1987. Since that time, there were 42,987 deaths from AIDS. The regions most affected with HIV infection, apart from Kyiv, are Dnipropetrovsk, Kyiv, Donetsk, Mykolayiv and Odesa regions.

*AFEW International is not aware of the law on mandatory HIV testing and will advocate against such law.

The HIV Epidemic in Russia as the Consequence of State Political Ideology

www.poz.com

Author: Ivan Varentsov, employee at Andrey Rylkov Foundation, Russia

“HIV-positive patients keep complaining about the lack of medicines”; “The Archangelsk HIV Centre to be left without its own office building”; “The number of HIV-positive migrants increased 15 times in the last five years”, “The most common deaths among prisoners in Russian Federation are from HIV”, “HIV dissidents are luring the doubters in their communities.” All these Russian media headlines on HIV were published only during the last several weeks. It seems that the issue with HIV situation has been just recently recognized at the highest state level. It was finally decided to create the state strategy on HIV spread prevention in Russia till 2020. Vice-premier Olga Golodets even made a statement that HIV/AIDS subject is one of the most important in Russia. Although, it still feels like all these statements are just mere words. The situation with the spread of HIV, its prevention and treatment in Russia keeps getting worse. It is especially widespread among such vulnerable groups: injecting drug users, sex workers, men having sex with men, and migrants.

Some statistics

A few weeks ago, the Federal AIDS Centre released the information on HIV situation in the Russian Federation as of 31 December 2016. The total number of registered cases of HIV infection among the Russian Federation citizens has reached 1,114,815 people. There were 870,952 HIV-positive Russian citizens as of the end of the year. Herewith, there were 103,438 new cases of HIV infection registered in 2016 among Russian population (morbidity rate of 70.6 per 100k individuals), which is 5.3% higher than in 2015.

A hundred thousand new cases each year! To compare: a little more than 17,000 cases were registered in Ukraine (morbidity rate of 40 per 100k individuals) in the same year. As for the whole epidemic history, since 1987, there were 300,000 registered cases. If you take Montenegro, for example, where Russians like to go for their vacations, there were only 200 registered cases in 30 years. 100k is a population of Tobolsk or Khanty-Mansiysk.

This situation in Russia has been observed for quite a long time now. The constant increase of new cases in the country has been registered since 1998. In 2011-2016, the annual increase on average was 10%. According to the new UNAIDS report, the number of new registered cases of HIV infection from 2010 to 2016 increased by 75% in the Russian Federation. Russia is the “driving force” of the epidemic in the EECA region – in 2016 it accounted 81% of the new HIV cases. It is important to mention that HIV treatment coverage in the country is little more than 30%. According to the global strategy adopted by World Health Organisation, in HIV health sector on 2016-2021 for the cessation of the HIV epidemic, it is necessary to identify about 90% of possible number of HIV-infected population and to provide no less than 90% of the HIV infected patients with antiretroviral therapy.

Profanation of the fight against HIV

Historically, the main HIV epidemic affected group among the Russian Federation population is injecting drug users (IDUs). By some estimates (UNODC, 2009), the prevalence of HIV among IDUs in Russian Federation is more than 37%. It means that there is a concentrated epidemic among this population group. In the period from 1987 to 2008, there were about 79.78% cases of HIV infection connected to the use of injecting drugs. The sexual transmission has been rapidly growing in numbers in the recent years. In 2016, in 48.7% recorded cases the risk factor was heterosexual transmission. Nevertheless, the injecting way of transmission has been consistently enormous – 48.8% in 2016.

Could there be any better signal to authorities to start taking urgent actions in epidemic spread prevention among this risk group? What are they waiting for? There are several effective programs such as “harm reduction” and substitution therapy, which are scientifically proven ways of HIV prevention worldwide. Moreover, they helped reducing the spread of HIV among IDUs in Ukraine. Nevertheless, the above-mentioned programs are not supported by the state HIV prevention strategy in the Russian Federation.

Different level officials, from “specialists” to ministers, keep making statements about no found evidence for effectiveness of these programs. They also tend to say that methadone therapy is a lie invented by the Western pharmacological companies. Following statements would be questioned in any other country, but Russia. Meanwhile, the social establishments dealing with HIV prophylaxis among IDUs and other social groups are listed as foreign agents. Only in 2016, the Ministry of Justice registered seven such organizations.

The ideology of traditional inaction

It is hard to understand what caused such long-lasting stubbornness of authorities in Russia, and why they refuse to accept effective measures in HIV prevention. Most likely, the reason lies in Russian conservative political outlook. Based on the traditional and social values, politicians do not accept such social groups as drug users and LGBT community. This leads to failures and neglect in observance of consumer rights, including health rights.

The problem is that this attitude is not only perverse and inhumane, but also dangerous to the whole community from the public health perspective. The HIV epidemic is not limited to certain population groups and it is not dying with them, as some may think. It has already surpassed all boundaries. For example, drug user’s sexual partners, on one hand, are very sensitive HIV group, and on the other hand (from the epidemiological point of view), a connecting link between IDUs and the entire population. The number of HIV-positive women is constantly increasing. Therefore, apparently, there will be no changes in the situation with HIV epidemic. Not until we change the ideology.

Open Call for Applications for Eurasian Gender Academy 2017 Announced

An open call for applications to participate in the second Eurasian Gender Academy 2017 is announced.

Eurasian Gender Academy  is developed in response to the pressing need to address the persistent gender inequalities and human rights violations that put Women, Girls and Transgender (WG/TG) at a greater risk of, and more vulnerable to HIV, hepatitis and tuberculosis. This event is conducted in the framework of RCNF-funded Project “Eastern European Regional Platform for Accelerated Action for Women, Girls and Transgender in in HIV/AIDS Context”.

The 2nd Eurasian Gender Academy 2017 focuses on actions in four areas, outlined below:

  1. Integrating gender analysis into assessment, programme design, implementation and monitoring of organizational and national public health responses and strategies;
  2. Strengthening the capacity of participants to systemically integrate and apply gender sensitive, gender oriented, gender budgeted, gender transforming programs, services and activities at organizational and national levels;
  3. Ensuring inclusion of gender aspects in funding appeals and proposals;
  4. Developing and implementing gender-responsive advocacy and lobby.

Eurasian Gender Academy program is rooted in a broad-based gender equity and human rights approach and reflects a number of principles, including participation, evidence-informed, tailored and ethical responses, partnership, the engagement of boys and men, leadership, multisectorality and accountability.

You can find more information about the program, application and selection process here.

One in Sixth People Infected with HIV in Tajikistan This Year is a Migrant

Author: Nargis Hamrabayeva, Tajikistan

Approximately five thousand citizens of Tajikistan, which were found to be infected with HIV, tuberculosis and hepatitis during their stay in the territory of the Russian Federation, were declared personae non gratae for lifetime by the government of Russia in June this year. How could this expulsion of infected fellow citizens affect the Republic of Tajikistan?

Generally, after returning from Russia, migrant workers, unaware of their status, may unintentionally put the health of the members of their families at risk by spreading and transmitting infectious diseases including HIV/AIDS, believes Takhmina Khaidarova, the head of the Tajik Network of Women (TNW) Living with HIV/AIDS.

“The consequences of transmitting and spreading of infectious diseases depend solely on the will of the state. Providing that a state fully implements their commitments within the framework of the National Strategy for the Response to HIV/AIDS Epidemic for 2017-2020, it would be possible to avoid drastic consequences. If the government of a state cannot conduct awareness-building work about infectious diseases and their transmission amongst their population on adequate level, despite the fact whether or not infected migrants would be deported, the increase of the epidemic will stay high,” she considers.

According to Takhmina Khaidarova, the main problem is the low level of awareness about infectious diseases, including HIV/AIDS, before the migrants leave the country, during their stay in the host country, as well as on their return to their home country. “Migrant workers have little information and preparation, they are not aware about their status before leaving the country and they do not observe any safety measures during their stay in labour migration. After contracting infectious diseases, they return to their home country and, generally, do not undergo medical examinations; so, unaware of this, they transmit infectious diseases to their sexual partners,” says Takhmina Khaidarova.

She believes that another problem lies in the fear of stigma and discrimination, therefore, migrant workers who have returned do not undergo examination until their health deteriorates considerably.

According to figures provided by the Ministry of Health of the Republic of Tajikistan, there have been noted 384 cases of citizens infected with HIV in the first quarter of 2017, whereby one in sixth is a migrant, who had left in search of work outside the country. Presently, the total number of people living with HIV-positive status in Tajikistan is around nine thousand.

It should also be reminded that Eastern Europe and Central Asia will be a prime focus in the 22nd International HIV/AIDS Conference in 2018, which will take place in Amsterdam in July 2018.