From the Worldwide Faith News archives www.wfn.org
FEATURE: A Struggle with Drug Dependency and HIV/AIDS
"Frank Imhoff" <FRANKI@elca.org>
Mon, 26 Apr 2004 12:44:11 -0500
FEATURE: A Struggle with Drug Dependency and HIV/AIDS
Thousands in Ukraine Still Waiting for Anti-retroviral Drugs
ODESSA, Ukraine/GENEVA, 26 April 2004 (LWI) * Sergei Fyodorov has known his
HIV status for the last nine years. In 1995, then a student and struggling
with drug dependency, he was tested for HIV without his knowledge. The doctor
who told him that he was HIV positive, provided no further information.
Fyodorov, obviously shocked, could not believe that he had become infected in
his hometown, the Black Sea city of Odessa. At that time he knew very little
about HIV/AIDS, only that it was supposed to be an incurable viral infection
found in the United States of America.
He did not tell anyone in his family about the test results. But he informed
his friends who, like himself, were unable to free themselves from drug
dependency, and many of whom soon discovered that they were HIV positive.
The outgoing 30-year-old recounted his HIV status and present activities
during a Lutheran World Federation (LWF) HIV/AIDS consultation for European
church leaders, April 20-25, in Odessa, Ukraine. Fyodorov appeared like a
young Ukrainian executive, with no hint of his former drug problem. In a
hesitant voice, he told of his second HIV test in 1999. It brought back
memories of his stay in a psychiatric clinic undergoing drug detoxification.
But he never got any real treatment there. He was simply under lock and key,
without medication or care. It was difficult to stop taking drugs suddenly,
all the more if one was HIV positive, he said.
Doctors at the clinic disclosed the results of Fyodorov's second test to his
family without informing him or seeking his consent. This is in violation to
Ukrainian law, as HIV-positive persons have a right to anonymity. Asked how
his mother at first reacted to news about her son's status, Fyodorov said she
probably already suspected he was HIV positive. The doctors had suggested
that she buy special crockery and cutlery for her sick son so that the rest
of the family would not be infected. It was not until some time later, and
after his mother had learnt more about HIV/AIDS, that Fyodorov could again
eat normally with his family.
In his struggle against drug dependency, Fyodorov received support from
friends who had managed to quit the habit, and also from various church
institutions in Odessa. From the moment he realized he had to do something
about his drug problem if he was to achieve anything in life, it became
easier. But before then, it was a long and difficult path.
Today Fjodorov is a member of the All-Ukrainian Network of People Living with
HIV/AIDS, and administrative chairperson of the self-help group and
non-governmental organization (NGO) Life Plus, founded in 1999 by people
living with HIV/AIDS (PLHA) in Odessa. With 46 members and many volunteers,
most of whom are PLHA, it runs an out-patient AIDS support center, and is
active in prevention and education work.
Marina is one of the beneficiaries of Life Plus. Now 40 years old, she learnt
at the birth of her fourth child that she was HIV positive and had passed on
the virus to her baby. With the help of Life Plus and the NGO Doctors without
Borders, she was able to save her child's life. She received the necessary
baby food, medication and treatment free of charge. She was homeless at the
time, her husband had died, and so she had to place her children in an
orphanage. With the help of Life Plus and her mother who had moved to Odessa,
Marina was able to find a one-room flat where she now lives with her four
children. She is one of Life Plus' volunteers working to help other PLHA.
Each month, more than 500 affected people come to the Life Plus center. In
Odessa alone, there are over 6,400 officially registered HIV positive people.
According to UNAIDS estimates, 250,000 inhabitants of Ukraine, about 1 per
cent of the population aged between 15 to 49 are infected with the virus. The
victims are mainly intravenous drug users, sex workers and men having sex
with other men. But the HIV/AIDS pandemic is increasingly affecting other
social groups as well.
Another important task for Life Plus is legal counseling. As Fyodorov
reported, in Odessa employers compelled employees to take an HIV test and, if
the result was positive, workers were dismissed without notice or reasons for
One of the main problems encountered by Life Plus is providing
anti-retroviral drugs to those affected by HIV and AIDS; only about 120
patients in Odessa are receiving such treatment. The Global Fund to Fight
AIDS, Tuberculosis, and Malaria (GF-ATM) estimates that in Ukraine at least
4,000 people should have access to anti-retroviral therapy in a first phase
of such treatment. The GF-ATM had already reached an agreement with NGOs in
the Ukraine to make funds available to buy drugs, but support was suspended
at the beginning of the year after an evaluation of the partner organizations
indicated mismanagement and delays in implementing the programs. The
country's PLHA are now hoping that the financial aid will start again soon so
that they can benefit.
Fyodorov described it as outrageous that many people had to die simply
because they had no access to anti-retrovirals. He himself is currently in
very good health, and does not require this type of medication. State
authorities had given an assurance that funds would be available in June to
purchase drugs for at least 4,000 infected people, but few believe this
promise, he said.
Concerning the future, Fyodorov hopes that progress in medical research would
lead to better treatment opportunities. Until then, he is grateful that he
can depend on anti-retroviral drugs. He is focussed on continuously learning
to live with the infection and helping others do the same. Advocacy on the
rights of people living with HIV/AIDS, is another of his priorities.
About 40 representatives of European LWF member churches including women and
youth leaders, and staff of regional and international NGOs attended the
Odessa HIV/AIDS consultation. The meeting organized by the LWF in cooperation
with the German Evangelical Lutheran Church in the Ukraine was the last in a
series of four regional conferences under the LWF global campaign against
HIV/AIDS, and its plan of action launched in May 2002 under the title,
"Compassion, Conversion, Care: Responding as Churches to the HIV/AIDS
Pandemic." Regional conferences have taken place also in Africa, Latin
American and the Caribbean, and Asia. (1,082 words)
[The LWF is a global communion of Christian churches in the Lutheran
tradition. Founded in 1947 in Lund (Sweden), the LWF now has 136 member
churches in 76 countries representing 62.3 million of the almost 66 million
Lutherans worldwide. The LWF acts on behalf of its member churches in areas
of common interest such as ecumenical and inter-faith relations, theology,
humanitarian assistance, human rights, communication, and the various aspects
of mission and development work. Its secretariat is located in Geneva,
[Lutheran World Information (LWI) is the LWF's information service. Unless
specifically noted, material presented does not represent positions or
opinions of the LWF or of its various units. Where the dateline of an article
contains the notation (LWI), the material may be freely reproduced with
* * *
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