Experts warn of public health disaster in Ukraine

More than a quarter of new HIV infections in Ukraine occur among the country’s approximately 350,000 people who inject drugs. Before the war, Ukraine’s harm reduction policies allowed more than 17,000 of its citizens to receive so-called opiate replacement therapy.

The need for treatment has increased as access to street drugs has decreased during the conflict. However, experts say current stockpiles of opiate substitutes such as methadone and buprenorphine are unlikely to last more than one to two weeks.

So WHO and other non-profit organizations are asking for drug funding from the Czech Republic, Austria and other countries. The Global Fund, a giant global health organization, has provided more than $3 million to purchase these treatments over the next year.

Some experts fear that if Russian forces prevail, drug users in Ukraine will be in grave danger. Opioid replacement therapy is illegal in Russia. Within 10 days of annexing Crimea in 2014, Russia closed all methadone dispensing centers, lead to death from overdose and suicide.

“You can’t stop these treatments from day to day,” says Dr. Kazatchkine.

Tetiana Koshova, Kyiv regional coordinator of the Network of Women Who Use Drugs of Ukraine, said that women who use drugs face special stigma and discrimination from state organizations and health Organization.

Before the war, the organization helped between 50 and 70 women a month, but now that number has doubled, Koshova said.

Ms. Koshova was diagnosed with HIV in 2006, at the age of 27, and said she worries about the availability of HIV drugs as the fight continues. Although warehouses are still stocked with antiretroviral drugs, “the situation can change at any time, as missiles fly anywhere and destroy things indiscriminately,” she said.

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