Patients of Ukraine’s main AIDS clinic at risk of losing medication

Jan. 15, 2013, 7:06 p.m. | Ukraine — by Oksana Grytsenko
Some 1,800 HIV-positive patients could face interruptions of crucial antiretroviral treatment in a matter of weeks at Kyiv’s main AIDS clinic after the state failed to purchase the medication in time, say HIV-AIDS advocacy groups.

Advocacy groups say the country’s main AIDS clinic, located on the compound of the Kyiv Pechersk Lavra Monastery, faces a looming medication shortage after government officials failed in December to purchase the needed drugs for this year after abruptly cancelling a tender for the medication procurement.

Officials say there’s medicine left for two and a half months – enough to conduct another tender and purchase the medicine – while advocates say there’s only enough medicine to last for several weeks. The patients are too poor to buy their own medications.

“I’m scared that one day I would be told there is no medication for me at all,” Oleksiy told the Kyiv Post, who is HIV positive, but wouldn’t give his surname for fear of stigmatization.

Oleksiy said he travelled to the clinic every three months from the northern city of Sumy, but now travels every two weeks because of the limited supply of medicine and smaller portions he receives.

Officials now have called HIV-AIDS advocacy groups to come up with the money to make up for the potential shortage in medication.

There may be more than a whiff of scandal involved here. On Jan. 15, the state official responsible for procurement of the drugs resigned abruptly and without explanation. The official, Viktor Mariyevsky, was the head of the Gromashevsky Research Institute of Epidemiology and Infectious Diseases.

The threat to medication supplies could be life-threatening.

Even a day’s interruption in antiretroviral treatment, so-called cocktail of drugs that supports the immune system, puts a patient’s life with HIV at-risk since the entire treatment plan needs to be altered. Antiretroviral therapy in Ukraine is free, with more than 80 percent of treatment being covered by the state, and the rest by foreign donors.

After a plea for help, medication was sent to the AIDS clinic by the All-Ukrainian Network of People Living with HIV and from the state reserve, but it remains unclear how many drugs remain.

In addition to the procurement delay, activists want to know what happened to the Hr 13 million ($1.6 million) that was allocated from the state budget to purchase antiretroviral pills.

Medical officials say the money was used to buy medication for children, pregnant women, patients with diabetes, heart disease, as well as other patients.

“The money allocated for drugs will be spent only on drugs,” said Valery Zaporozhan, vice president of the Academy of Medical Sciences of Ukraine.

But critics suspect embezzlement.

“I will address the president and prosecutors to find out how this money could be spent for other purposes,” said Volodymyr Zhovtiak, chairman of the All-Ukrainian Network of Persons Living with HIV/AIDS.

Kyiv Post staff writer Oksana Grytsenko can be reached at grytsenko@kyivpost.com

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