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Russian annexation of Crimea threatens drug users

The Russian occupation in the Crimea has far reaching consequences for over 800 people who inject drugs and benefit from Needle exchanges and Opioid Substitution Therapy (OST) therapy. Participating in OST programs allowed long-term addicts to avoid illegal drugs, sustain a more normal life, and get medical treatment for related medical conditions like HIV and hepatitis. As a result of the annexation clients of opiate substitution programs are being criminalized and legislation bans opiate substitution therapy. One of the OST programs in Sevastopol implemented by community-based organisation “ Havan +”, local affiliation of the All-Ukrainian Network of People Living With HIV/AIDS is under immediate threat of shutting down. Lives are put at risk as access to life-saving medical and HIV prevention services is severally compromised.

Svitlana Moroz, steering committee member of aids Action Europe and board member of the All-Ukrainian Network explains: “Because of the OST program in Sevastopol 130 people were able to stop or reduced injecting drugs. Without therapy they are likely to start or increase again, leading to a rise in transmission of HIV and hepatitis C if people don't have access to clean injecting equipment. Moreover, abrupt withdrawal of OST treatment will require urgent narcological help. Without OST they are likely restart criminal behaviour to get illicit drugs”

After a sharp increase in injection of homemade opium led to higher HIV incidence in the nation, Ukraine had enrolled approximately 8,500 clients in OST programs since 2006. Such an approach has resulted in a continuous decrease of HIV transmission among people who inject drugs. In 2012, for the first time since 1999, the overall number of newly registered HIV cases in Ukraine decreased by two percent. The number of new cases registered among people who inject drugs fell by nine percent compared with the previous year. Since Russian soldiers and local self-defense and Cossack groups set up roadblocks on roads into Crimea no new supplies have arrived on the peninsula. Svitlana is certain shutdown of OST programs by Russian authorities in Crimea cannot be avoided: “Our colleagues in Crimea and in Russia continue to negotiate with the local and federal government to provide at least narcological treatment to mitigate abstinence symptoms. Discontinuation make patients and their families also flee from the peninsula to continue treatment in the Ukraine.” 

As a result of Russian actions, the All-Ukrainian Network decided to officially boycott the 4th Eastern Europe and Central Asia HIV/AIDS Conference (EECAAC) in Moscow under the auspices of the Russian Federation Government. Together with State authorities and non-governmental organizations of Ukraine they formulated an official statement: “Strongly objecting to any actions leading to violation of territorial integrity or political unity of Ukraine, as well as relying upon the principles of equality and self-determination of nations, we hope that our statement would be supported by our colleagues from other countries. We call upon peaceful and constructive settlement of the conflict and avoidance of any threat to the national interests and safety.”

                                                                                                                                                           (photo credits by Soa Aids Nederland)

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