Ukraine and Russia – Two of the largest HIV epidemics in Europe
The Russian Federation (Russia) has the largest HIV epidemic in Eastern Europeand Central Asia, reaching its millionth case of HIV in 2016. Four years ago global leaders announced bold plans to wipe out Aids by 2030. The WHO report on HIV/AIDS surveillance in Europe in 2018 (based on data from 2017) found two countries alone — Ukraine and the Russian Federation — accounted for 75% of all newly diagnosed infection cases in the WHO European Region, and for 92% of cases in the east.
In Ukraine, HIV discrimination and stigma is still common. And due to the conflict in the country, cases of HIV are on the rise. Families are struggling to cope with the shortage of medicine as most international medical organisations have been banned from delivering aid.
In 2015, a dermatologist in Russia’s fourth largest city, Yekaterinburg, diagnosed Katia with herpes. “I had no idea what it was,” says Katia, who asked that her last name not be used. But because she had suffered repeated illnesses over the preceding 2 years and had an alcoholic ex-boyfriend who simultaneously had other girlfriends, she suspected that something more serious might be wrong. She asked the doctor to give her a referral for an HIV test. “Why?” he asked. “Are you going to marry a foreigner?”
“I persisted and said, ‘I’m not leaving here until I get a referral.’”
The day Katia learned the test results, she walked the streets for hours crying, unable to even find her car. The literature she received explained she had the AIDS virus and said the outlook was grim. She read that the virus, if untreated, could kill her in as few as 3 years. Katia, then 30, had a young daughter. Who would raise her? And Katia had to hide her infection from her employer—her father. “If I told my father I had HIV, he wouldn’t understand. He’d run away from me. Overall, the attitude here is horrible.
Huge global progress has been made in tackling an epidemic which has claimed over 35 million lives since the 1980s. But there’s one region in the world where infection rates from the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) – the pathogen that causes Aids – have been quietly rising in recent years.
The HIV crisis in eastern Europe and central Asia – which gathered pace in the two decades following the disintegration of the Soviet Union in 1991 – has now reached epidemic proportions.
It prompted anti-Aids campaigners and activists to issue a stark warning at last month’s global Aids conference in Amsterdam that the region’s HIV crisis risks “exploding”.