In January we reported on the Ministry of the Interior’s worrying crackdown on patients trying to access legal drug substitution therapy disrupting HIV prevention programmes in the country.
We’d like to thank everyone who took part in the What’s Preventing Prevention campaign’s action and wrote to the Ukrainian government to demand an end to the harassment and the disruption of HIV prevention services.
Treatment was being withheld unless patients provided information on their health and HIV status in a ‘voluntary’ survey. NGOs and charities supporting substitution therapy also faced harassment and intimidation. Documents were taken from charity organisations and in some cities programmes for drug users stopped altogether.
Currently new cases of HIV remain highest among people who use drugs. An estimated 23% of injecting drug users are HIV positive in Ukraine.
Substitution therapy is protected by law in Ukraine. However, in reality, former drug users enrolled in substitution therapy programmes, are subject to criminal prosecution, harassment and intimidation by law enforcement officers in Ukraine.
Along with the Prime Minister’s order Ukraine’s Ministry of Health has issued an overview of the benefits and successes of substitution which states that, “considering positive outcomes related to the trends in HIV transmission and re-socialization of drug users, it is necessary to continue extending substitution maintenance treatment for injecting drug users and increase their coverage with antiretroviral treatment for the purpose of secondary prevention of sexual HIV transmission”.
While we welcome these positive developments we urge the government of Ukraine to put their support of drug substitution therapy into practice. The people who urgently require therapy should receive it without facing harassment and abuse from state authorities.