With one of the fastest-growing HIV rates in Europe and an international reputation as a sex tourist haven, anti-AIDS activists are preparing for the Euro 2012 soccer tournament by citing worrying statistics.
Experts estimate that 1.3 percent of the adult population is infected with HIV, the highest in all of Europe. For a nation that expects an influx of hundreds of thousands of football tourists for the 2012 championships, trouble could be ahead.
Public health activists have even more reason to worry since the nation cannot stand on its feet financially without multi-billion-loans from international agencies. And, moreover, the requirements for getting those loans are fiscal austerity – and that may mean severe cutbacks to government spending on AIDS prevention and treatment.
“The reason no one is willing to officially announce that there is a true epidemic is that the money, which Ukraine is currently receiving from international organizations, would then have to be directed away from bolstering the economy into treatment,” said Dmytro Sherembey, a spokesman for the All-Ukrainian Network of People Living with HIV/AIDS.
Sherembey noted that several billion hryvnias are slated for spending on Euro 2012 projects, such as stadiums, while AIDS programs are under-funded.
Dr. Ani Shakarishvili, country coordinator of United Nations AIDS, said that Ukraine has “the right interventions for prevention and treatment of HIV/AIDS,” just not enough money to apply them universally.
“Instead of countrywide impact, we observe only pockets of success,” Shakarishvili said. “That is because Ukraine is yet far away from providing universal access to HIV prevention, treatment and care for the people in need.”
Meanwhile, the number of documented new cases of HIV infection goes up by about 50 daily. And, experts warn, as few as one third of all infected people are aware of their status.
UNAIDS and other international experts call for a comprehensive approach to HIV prevention, including better integration of medical services and public education efforts.
Ukrainian organizations say they are having a hard time getting public-service messages on TV, despite a law that requires broadcasters to set aside time for social issues.
Other problems include how to carry out testing of people in rural areas – where low salaries and high transportation costs to cities for treatment limit the reach of anti-AIDS programs.
Fortunately, the problem is not insurmountable – yet. There are currently 30,000 people in Ukraine requiring treatment. However, the need for treatment is expected to grow to 140,000 patients by 2016, a potential catastrophe in the making unless spending for prevention and treatment is greatly increased.
Early detection and treatment are the most cost-effective ways of combating the problem.
In 2008, according to the latest available statistics, AIDS related spending totaled just over $102 million – with half coming from international donors and the other half from government.
“Over time, as the number of infections increases, more treatment will be needed,” Shakarishvili of UNAIDS said. “That, in turn, will be a huge burden on the health and social sectors.”
Kyiv Post staff writer Lucy Chambers can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org