Governments should take responsibility for resisting the spread of HIV
While the AIDS – 2010 conference was in session three thousand inhabitants of Western Europe and Central Asia were diagnosed with HIV. This was announced by the president of the Eastern European and Central Asian Association of People Living with HIV (APLH), Vladimir Zhovtyak, at a press conference held during the event. He mentioned that 18 countries in the region had set world records for increases in the rate of the incidence of HIV/AIDS epidemics and called upon international organisations to pay attention to the problem and on national governments to take responsibility for combating the epidemic.
The regional director of the Joint UN Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS) was the first to respond to this, declaring that a little over 30 percent of HIV positive people living in Eastern Europe and Central Asia had access to antiretroviral therapy (AT) whilst in South Africa over 45 percent had. Thus UNAIDS would accord priority to the region following the conference.
Speakers thought that access to AT was difficult for a number of reasons. First, national governments did not have enough money. Mr Zhovtyak indicated that in Ukraine the national programme for combating HIV received only 20 percent of the necessary finance. Secondly, even where resources existed they were not used effectively. He said that several years ago NGOs financed by the World Fund for Combating AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria were buying AT drugs at a dollar each when the government was 'locating' them at twenty nine dollars each. Now this gap had narrowed by a factor of three or four. This is why, he suggested, international donors were not willing to put money into fighting the epidemic in the region.
The director of the Fund for the Welfare of HIV positive citizens added that corruption existed in Russia in relation to the purchase of drugs, and that was the reason that the Russian Federation was not able to provide AT to all who needed it. She said that irregular treatment had been noted in over twenty regions. The problem was characteristic especially in five oblasts where provision was being financed by the the Global Fund. It was from this source that drugs for migrants and practically all prisoners were being bought. She emphasised that if the Global Fund did not support Russia's regular requirements in full, the lives of many HIV positive Russians would be endangered. Speakers identified the third cause of difficulty in accessing AT as the 'repressive policy towards those injecting drugs'.
The UNAIDS representative stressed that national governments should support 'programmes for damage limitation' and 'refrain from adopting repressive measures against those injecting drugs' applying for AT. Otherwise, the epidemic would go underground and go on getting worse.
APLH leaders are ready to mount active protests for the sake of saving the lives of their fellow citizens, but they prefer the negotiation route. As the chair of the national branch of the association emphasised, the association had garnered a great deal of experience during the years it had been in existence. That said, when HIV positive people take action it is their own lives that are in issue. He continued by saying that one of the steps that needed to be taken was to alter the system of purchasing AT preparations and to introduce public control over this, whilst at the same time taking extensive preventive measures both amongst vulnerable sections of the population like sex workers and the community as a whole. Mr Zhovtyak added that national leaders should be persuaded to exercise personal oversight of policy relating to the choice of criteria for allocating resources to combating the epidemic. Another contributor thought that the cost of treatment should be reduced, interruptions in the purchase of supplies avoided and information widely disseminated.