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World AIDS Day

01/12/2011

Today is World AIDS Day.

World AIDS Day is held on 1 December each year and is an opportunity for people worldwide to unite in the fight against HIV, show their support for people living with HIV and to commemorate people who have died. World AIDS Day was the first ever global health day and the first one was held in 1988.

With an infection rate of around 1.6 to 1.8 percent, Ukraine has the highest rate of HIV/AIDS infection in Europe, and contributed nearly 21 percent of the newly reported HIV diagnoses in 2006 in the Europe and Eurasia  region. Ukraine’s first case of HIV/AIDS was detected in 1987.

Annual HIV diagnoses in Ukraine have more than doubled since 2000. The spread of HIV has also increased in central, northern, and western regions, particularly in urban settings, where 78 percent of new cases registered in 2007 were among urban residents.

Low rates of HIV testing are a major challenge in combating the epidemic. In Ukraine, few people are tested for the disease, largely because of lack of access to testing centers, concerns for lack of privacy, and the stigma attached to testing and infection.

Contrary to popular opinion, HIV and AIDS in Ukraine are not limited to intravenous drug users (IDUs) and prostitutes, although those are the groups who are most at risk (as are the sexual partners of drug users). People in the most at-risk populations are particularly at risk due to their behaviors and the widespread stigma and discrimination against them and HIV-positive individuals.

Other factors contributing to the epidemic include high levels of migration and commercial sex, growing rates of sexually transmitted infections, increases in substance abuse, stigmatization and lack of effective treatment, and inadequate health care and social services.

While awareness of some preventive behaviors is high in Ukraine, less than 50 percent of men and women in Ukraine have a comprehensive understanding of how to decrease the risk of HIV infection, according to the 2007 Ukraine Demographic Health Survey.

How are Americans and Peace Corps Volunteers helping Ukraine with this problem? Through the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), Ukraine received $7.3 million in 2009 for essential HIV/AIDS programs and services. USAID’s HIV/AIDS programs in Ukraine are implemented as part of the U.S. President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR). Launched in 2003, PEPFAR is the U.S. Government’s  initiative to support partner nations around the world in responding to HIV/AIDS. Through PEPFAR, the U.S. Government has committed approximately $32 billion to HIV/AIDS programs and the Global Fund.

Since 2002, USAID/Ukraine has worked with the government of Ukraine, other donors, multilateral and international agencies, NGOs and the private sector to prevent transmission of HIV and contain the spread of HIV. Current programs support efforts to strengthen the HIV/AIDS policy and legislative environment; provide prevention and care information and services for the most at-risk populations; reduce the stigma and discrimination associated with HIV/AIDS; and build governmental and nongovernmental capacity to plan, implement, manage, and monitor Ukraine’s National AIDS Program.

In addition, most Peace Corps Volunteers in Ukraine (there are currently 450 of us)  conduct some sort of HIV/AIDS awareness and education program, trying to reach the next generation and teach them about how to avoid getting the disease. They also try to help reduce the stigma against people who have HIV/AIDS through their educational efforts.

Why is all of this important? Globally, an estimated 33.3 million people have HIV. More than 25 million people died from AIDS-related illnesses between 1981 and 2007, making AIDS one of the most destructive pandemics in history.

Today, many scientific advances have been made in HIV treatment, there are laws to protect people living with HIV and we understand so much more about the condition. But despite this, people do not know the facts about how to protect themselves and others from HIV, and stigma and discrimination remain a reality for many people living with HIV. World AIDS Day is important as it reminds the public and Government that HIV has not gone away – there is still a vital need to raise money, increase awareness, fight prejudice and improve education.

If you would like to learn more about HIV and AIDS, click on this link. Take action to educate yourself and others about HIV and AIDS, and learn how to treat people with HIV or AIDS with respect and understanding.

 

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