In Ukraine, HIV discrimination is still common and amid conflict, cases of HIV are on the rise as families struggle to cope with medical shortages
Living in a conflict zone is hard, but for HIV positive women, it's even worse. Yelena knows very well. She comes from the separatist region of Luhansk in Eastern Ukraine. When she found out she was HIV positive, she faced a harsh reality. There was no medical treatment for her disease. So she decided to move with her child to Kyiv to get treatment. Leaving her family and a disabled father was not easy, but conditions were unbearable, she says.
"There is a lot of discrimination over there, a lot of people with weapons. It's not only discrimination about HIV positive women, but also ordinary women can be harassed. And if they find out you have a dangerous disease, then they start to treat you even worse," Yelena told Euronews Correspondent Elena Cavallone.
A study from Oxford University suggests that HIV incidence is on the rise in Ukraine due to the conflict. Women are more exposed to sexual violence and prostitution because of a large military presence and the need of people to get financial resources.
The stigmatisation of HIV is a broader issue among Ukrainian society. Fears of violence and discrimination make women reluctant to be tested or treated.
Based in Kyiv, Vera Varyga set up the NGO Positive Women in partnership with the United Nations Development Programme, and provides information and assistance to HIV positive women.
"HIV infection is transmitted not from those who are HIV infected and receive therapy, because their virus level is low. Infection comes from those people who don't know they are HIV infected and their virus level is high. That's why we need to do maximum effort to form a tolerant attitude of society towards this problem," Vera Varyga told Euronews.
According to UNAIDS, Ukraine has one of the largest HIV epidemics in Europe. Anti-retroviral coverage has increased in recent years, but a high rate of new infections in conflict areas threatens to outpace these gains.
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.