Our European NGO Delegates, Matthew Southwell and Laura Kirkegaard, write about their time in Ukraine.
Europe NGO Delegate, Laura Kirkegaard, visits Convictus, an organization that does great work with few resources in the suburbs of Kiev by offering harm reduction, needle exchange, HIV tests and support groups (Credit: UNAIDS Ukraine)
Representatives from the UNAIDS Programme Coordinating Board (PCB) visited Ukraine from 4-5 October 2012 to learn about its national AIDS programme. The two NGO Delegates for Europe joined other members of the UNAIDS governing body in its first trip to the Eastern Europe and Central Asia region. This annual field visit allows Board Members to experience first-hand the progress made and the challenges remaining in a country’s AIDS response.
The visit took place against a worrying political backdrop. On 2 October, Ukraine’s parliament took a first step to making the promotion of homosexuality a criminal offence punishable by prison, despite appeals from local and foreign human rights groups who said the move was discriminatory. This highlights recent testimonies the NGO Delegation has brought to the Board from HIV civil society that have focused on the negative impacts of stigma, discrimination, and punitive legal environments on the HIV response.
Ana Shakarishvili, UNAIDS Country Coordinator in Ukraine, makes a statement at the Alliance Ukraine press conference (Credit: Laura Kirkegaard)
The NGO Delegates attended a press conference organized by Alliance Ukraine with support from Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International and local LGBT organizations. During the press conference, civil society representatives put stickers over their mouths with the number of the new bill to symbolize how the bill is silencing those trying to fight for the health and human rights of people affected by HIV. The NGO Delegation welcomed the strong statements against the new discriminatory law from UNAIDS which joined its voice to the international condemnation of this retrograde move.
The two European Delegates organized pre-briefings with partners from HIV civil society that provided an important opportunity to hear the experiences of drug users, sex workers and those running HIV prevention, treatment, care and support services.
The NGO Delegates meet with civil society partners ahead of the Board visit (Credit: Laura Kirkegaard)
During its time in Ukraine, the Board delegation met with the Vice-Prime Minister and Minister of Health of Ukraine, Dr Raisa Bogatyryova, as well as with other government officials, development partners, civil society, community representatives and the UN Country Team and Joint Team on AIDS.
At the meeting with the Minister of Health, NGO Delegate Matthew Southwell intervened to highlight the positive role that key populations can and should play in the HIV response and convey the offers of key populations in Ukraine to meet with the Minister and to be included in HIV policy and planning:
“One of the challenges of HIV is that it highlights in many societies the fault lines of social stigma. If we cannot manage to look at the most marginalized populations who are most excluded then in fact we risk an HIV epidemic that will affect our whole population. What we have learnt in the countries where we faced HIV earlier was that drug users and other key populations can be part of the sensitizing and skills training of healthcare professionals, the police and the different stakeholders in the HIV response. We are not just the problem but we are also potentially part of the solution.”
The Board delegation outside of Ukraine’s Ministry of Health (Credit: UNAIDS Ukraine)
The Board delegation also undertook a range of visits with HIV service organizations providing HIV prevention, treatment, care and support. A visit to local OST services showed how services had continued despite the challenging policy and policing context. Last year’s coordinated pressure on methadone clinics and their clients has ended; however, clients of the local OST service highlighted the continuing police harassment of people on OST.
One notable development was the great strides forward made by the All Ukrainian Association of People Living with HIV which has become the co-principle recipient of the Global Fund. This has allowed for PLHIV to be central to the purchasing of ARVs and commissioning of services for PLHIV.
You can read UNAIDS’ press release about the trip on their website.
Read our report of last year’s Board delegation visit to Kenya.