Dr Podolyan’s arrest in Odessa for allegedly “committing crimes relating to the organised narcotics drugs trade”, is another incident in the ongoing persecution of people who use drugs in Ukraine. This includes the mass detention of substitution maintenance treatment programme patients, arrests of medical staff and disclosure of confidential information.
From 2004 people who use drugs are legally able to access government run SMT programmes to help them manage their drug habit but law enforcement agencies continue to prosecute those doing this important work and hassle the patients attending the clinic.
Earlier this year investigations by police into the Oblast Narcological Dispensary where Dr Podolyan worked, resulted in substitution maintenance therapy programmes being virtually stopped and 200 patients were unable to get their medication.
On the 17 June, Ukrainian and international organisations signed a joint letter initiated by Alliance Ukraine asking Ukraine’s Prime Minister, Mykola Azarov, and Attorney General, Oleksandr Medvedko, for support in reducing existing barriers to implementing SMT programmes, and ensuring the protection of rights of both SMT patients and doctors, like Dr Podolyan.
Back in April this year, Volodymyr Seminozhenko, Ukraine’s Vice Prime Minister for humanitarian affairs, signed a decision requesting the Ministry of Internal Affairs to take urgent measures to ensure these rights. This was during the first meeting of a renewed National Council to fight Tuberculosis and HIV/AIDS, which Seminozhenko chaired, but as yet there is no sign the situation has improved.
Podolyan’s wife, Liudmyla Podolyan is very worried about the welfare of her husband. “Illya has been put behind bars for fulfilling his professional duties which includes provision of vital treatment to patients. This way the authorities are probably trying to justify many months of fruitless ‘investigation’ and find probable cause for my husband’s initial detention in March. I am grievously concerned about my husband’s health and call on the Ukrainian state officials and international donor organisations which provide the Ukrainian government with significant amounts in donations to fight HIV/AIDS to put a stop to these cases of maltreatment of medical staff.”
A second Doctor, Yarsolav Olendr, who also prescribes substitution maintenance therapy for people who use drugs was unable to take part in a press conference, organised by Alliance Ukraine on this issue, having been told by police not to leave his home in Ternopil.
“For months I am being questioned by the police, each time the Detective charges me with new counts of alleged drugs trade and breaking of narcotics legislation. All of the accusations have to do with a simple fact that I happen to treat patients in the framework of a state supported programme. I wanted to attend the press conference personally but the police ordered me to stay in my home city,” said Doctor Yarsolav Olendr.
Over the last year Alliance Ukraine have documented a dozen cases of human rights abuses of patients and medical staff.
- Inspection of medical facilities which implement SMT programmes without probable cause.
- The unlawful removal of personalised lists of drug dependent patients.
- Unlawful home searches.
- Subjecting patients and medical staff to psychological pressure.
- Hindering the supply of SMT medication.
In June this year Vice Prime Minister Volodymyr Seminozhenko requested that the Ministry of Internal Affairs take urgent measures to ensure the rights of SMT patients and medical staff engaged in the implementation of SMT but there is no sign the situation has improved.
Iryna Sukhoparova is the mother of an SMT patient and President of the ‘Hope and Trust Charitable Foundation’. “Many patients from regions of Ukraine report cases of police brutality to operators of the SMT hotline, which was established in April 2009. Substitution treatment programmes implemented in many cities at Narcological Dispensaries have been turned by the police into no-man’s land. At any time they can come to a treatment programme and take the patients to the local police precinct. This is a result of the police’s firm belief that a drug dependent person even if s/he is on medical treatment is first of all a criminal. Our patients have no rights and they are powerless.”
This approach is seriously undermining the international reputation of the Ukraine on its approach to fight HIV and AIDS.
Andriy Klepikov, Executive Director of the International HIV/AIDS Alliance Ukraine concluded, “Currently in Ukraine, with support from the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, over 5300 drug dependent patients receive treatment in all regions of Ukraine. This is a significant achievement in the field of national drug policy and HIV prevention for people who use drugs and it was openly recognised as such internationally. We can not let all these efforts go to waste as a result of inconsistencies in legislation, and police interference into medical programmes.”
Illya was fulfilling his professional duties which includes provision of vital treatment to patients