Working to halt the spread of HIV in Ukraine

October 31, 2013

Ukraine has been making notable strides in counseling, testing, and treatment of people living with HIV/AIDS, but more effort is needed to reach out to vulnerable groups, including intravenous drug users and sex workers, to reduce the number of new HIV cases in the Eastern European country.

That was the message delivered by Michel Sidibe, executive director of UNAIDS, during an HIV/AIDS conference that Pact helped organize in Kiev from Oct. 24-26. Since 2012, Pact has worked with more than 40 local partners to implement eight pilot projects targeting populations most at risk of contracting HIV in Ukraine. The pilots, launched in five Ukrainian provinces, provide user-friendly services, including education, outreach, advocacy and behavior change activities designed to help reduce the stigma of HIV.

At the conference, Pact’s local partners brainstormed ways to improve the quality of counseling services during a session entitled, “Unrealized potential of counseling and testing for HIV prevention and treatment.” Some ideas included behavior change methodologies that encourage gay and bisexual men to reduce sexual risk-taking, get regular HIV testing and build peer support groups. Other ideas focused on at-risk youth and recently released prisoners.

Ukraine is experiencing the highest rate of HIV/AIDS in Eastern Europe and the Commonwealth of Independent States (those in the former Soviet Union). Every day, almost 60 Ukrainians are diagnosed with HIV.

The national AIDS program contains a number of ambitious goals, including substantially scaling up antiretroviral treatment for people living with HIV and expanding access to effective HIV prevention and social services for key populations.

In 2012, Pact began implementing a $22 million USAID-funded project to extend health services to groups high at risk of contracting HIV. Pact partnered with Family Health International (FHI 360) and several local partners to initiate the project, called RESPOND. The project was funded under PEPFAR, the U.S. President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief.