Experts Warn, Public Health Disaster Approaches in Ukraine


One in four new HIV infections in Ukraine is among the country’s approximately 350,000 injecting drug users. Before the war, Ukraine’s harm reduction policies enabled more than 17,000 of its citizens to receive so-called opioid substitution treatment.

Demand for treatment increased as access to street drugs decreased during the conflict. But now stocks of the opioid replacement drugs methadone and buprenorphine are unlikely to last more than one to two weeks, experts said.

That’s why WHO and other non-profit organizations are soliciting drug donations from the Czech Republic, Austria and other countries. The Global Fund, a massive global healthcare organization, has raised more than $3 million to purchase these treatments next year.

Some experts worry that Ukraine’s drug users will be in grave danger if Russian forces are victorious. Opioid substitution therapy is illegal in Russia. Russia closed all methadone distribution centers within 10 days of annexing Crimea in 2014, fatal from overdoses and suicides.

Dr. “You can’t stop these treatments from one day to the next,” Kazatchkine said.

Tetiana Koshova, the regional coordinator of the Ukrainian Network of Women Using Drugs in Kiev, said that women who use drugs face particular stigma and discrimination by government agencies and medical institutions.

Ms. Koshova said that before the war, the organization helped 50 to 70 women every month, but now that number has doubled.

Ms. Koshova was diagnosed with HIV in 2006, when she was 27, and said she was worried about the availability of HIV medications as the war continued. While there are still stocks of antiretroviral drugs in warehouses, “the situation could change at any time because rockets fly all over the place and indiscriminately destroy everything,” she said.


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