The United Nations says extraordinary progress has been made fighting AIDS over the past decade.
But in Ukraine cases of HIV infection have been rising dramatically.
The injection by syringe of a home-made lethal cocktail known as ‘crocodile’ has been blamed for the spread. It is based on popular eye-drops that can be bought without prescription.
The effects of ‘crocodile’ are extremely disturbing. Its name comes from the effect it has on skin, making it resemble a reptile. In extreme cases, it can even reduce flesh to the bone.
Given the alarming rise in HIV infection rates, drug prevention charities have called for more help from the government. But their pleas have so far fallen on deaf ears.
Olena Pirkovska from the Nika Kyiv Foundation said: “We don’t receive any financial support from the state. This is a big problem. According to preliminary information, about 40,000 Ukrainians will not have any access to treatment from next year.”
There is also a problem over how people affected are viewed, with many believing ‘crocodile’ users are on the margins of society.
Lena, who is HIV positive, says supporting charities have helped change society’s views: “There was some self-stigmatisation before among victims. But now there is less discrimination from others. It does not seem like everything is lost and I am going to die. Now I can tell myself it does not have to influence my life. I feel fine.”
According to Ukraine’s leading charities, unprotected sex and drug use are still the main causes of the spread of HIV infection.