In the Ukraine, around 300,000 people or 1.1% of the adult population (aged 15-49) are living with the disease, but less than two-fifths of these are receiving anti-retroviral treatment. Last autumn, the Ukrainian president said that tackling infectious diseases would be a priority for the government. But in 2013, less than half the proposed amount for fighting AIDS and tuberculosis has so far been allocated.
One young AIDS sufferer has therefore challenged the government about the country’s spending. Liza Yaroshenko is 14 years old and carries the AIDS virus. When Liza was just six, her mother died of the disease, having contracted HIV from injecting drugs supplied by Liza’s dealer father. On the same day her mother died, the hospital informed her grandmother that Liza too was infected.
Now living with an adoptive family, Liza is one of the lucky ones in Ukraine, because she receives the anti-retrovirals which keep the virus at bay. But the teenager wants more people to have access to this life-saving treatment. Backed by a patients’ lobby group, Liza recently went to speak in Ukraine’s parliament, where she urged members to block a draft budget which didn’t provide for the full amount of HIV/AIDS spending promised. Addressing the elected officials, Liza pleaded “without treatment many parents and children will die from this illness”.
The budget was nevertheless approved, but Liza and others will carry on campaigning. Health experts and campaigners also want the Ukrainian government to put money into HIV/AIDS prevention programmes, where there is no state funding. They are additionally concerned about new proposals to introduce a licensing procedure for importers of foreign medicines. This could raise the cost of anti-retroviral drugs even further.
Meanwhile, after seeing her speech on television, the pupils at her school voted Liza president, a fact of which she is clearly very proud. Speaking to the BBC, Liza admitted however that there was still much prejudice and misinformation surrounding HIV and reported how one teacher had told pupils it could by spread by sneezing or holding hands. Liza told the teacher that this was “rubbish”, even though it meant a trip to the head teacher’s office. But having faced a parliament full of MPs, perhaps no other situation will seem quite as daunting to this brave teenager.