Ahead of World Aids Day on 1st December, the United Nations released its 2010 report on HIV/AIDS. With data from 182 countries, the report found that globally the number of people living with the virus has dropped from 33.4 million to 33.3 million people. And with increasing access to treatment, worldwide there has been a 19 per cent decline in deaths due to HIV/AIDS between 2004 and 2009.
However, good news about a downward trend in the epidemic was not universal across all regions. In Eastern Europe and Central Asia, the number of people with HIV has nearly tripled since 2000, with an estimated 1.4 million living with the disease in 2009 (compared to 760,000 in 2001). In this region, aids-related deaths have risen sharply from 18,000 in 2001 to 76,000 in 2009. The growing number of victims has inevitably meant an increase in the number of children left orphaned by the disease across the region, which has been put at 73,000 (aged between 0-17 years), compared to 15,000 in 2001.
At 1.1 per cent of the adult population (15-49 years), Ukraine has the highest prevalence of HIV/AIDS across the region (the Russian Federation also has a high incidence at 1.0). Over the last decade, Ukraine witnessed a rapid rise in HIV infections among drug users, but now the epidemic is spreading quickly into the wider population. In 2009, more Ukranians were infected with the virus through unprotected heterosexual sex (43 per cent) than by drug injection (35 per cent). According to an official from a national HIV clinic, the “generalisation” of the epidemic means that in some areas, the HIV infection rate among pregnant women is running at 1 per cent.
Antiretroviral treatments were introduced six years ago and are beginning to have an impact on the number of deaths. But the national programme for fighting AIDS has lacked the funding required for the increasing numbers, despite a 230 million dollar grant from the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria for 2004-2012. In the summer, the Ukranian government put in a request for 300 million dollars to cover 2012-2017 and has promised that the national programme will receive 100 per cent of the funds needed next year.
In the meantime, experts in the field report that as many as 20 per cent of children whose mothers are infected with HIV/AIDS are being rejected. In a country suffering high rates of poverty, unemployment and drug addiction, and with no real culture of adoption, this kind of abandonment is resulting in growing numbers of children in state orphanages. Though medical conditions and material surroundings are generally good in these facilities, children nevertheless suffer from the negative effects of institutional care. And in a country where there is still a huge stigma around HIV/AIDS, any abandoned children who are themselves infected with the disease currently face a bleak future.