Life-saving HIV drugs arrive in Ukraine as war threatens to turn clock back on epidemic

The World Health Organisation is getting life-saving antiretroviral drugs to people living with HIV in Ukraine.

According to the WHO, there are around 260,000 people living with HIV in Ukraine, half of whom – including 2700 children – are on life-saving antiretroviral treatment.

Working with the United States President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) and Ukrainian partners, the WHO is working to ensure the supply of antiretroviral drugs (ARVs) for “every single person” who needs them.

The WHO announced on Wednesday (6 April) that the first delivery had crossed the Polish border and will be distributed through the country’s HIV service facilities.

The organisations secured the procurement of 209,000 packs of the antiretroviral drug TLD (tenofovir, lamivudine and dolutegravir), a supply that will last 12 months.

A further donation of dolutegravir will also be available soon, to treat infants living with HIV, the WHO reported.

Dr Hans Henri P Kluge, the WHO’s European regional director said: “This war has the potential to undermine the hard-earned progress of recent years on a number of health issues, including HIV.

“We couldn’t let that happen when Ukraine had begun to turn a corner on HIV, with fast-growing access to antiretroviral drugs, as well as improved diagnosis and treatment.”

It was reported on 21 March that 367 antiretroviral treatment sites in the country remained open. Among them, the WHO revealed, is one in the devastated city of Mariupol. Centres in Chernihiv and Zaporizhia also remained open.

The WHO recommended refugee-hosting countries support the supply of ARVs to continue the treatment of those with HIV. They highlighted, however, that many affected are men between 18 and 60, who were unable to leave the country.

Dr Jarno Habicht, a WHO representative in Ukraine, said: “Ensuring continued HIV treatment and sufficient stocks where people find temporary refuge – not only in terms of HIV but also in the context of other communicable and noncommunicable diseases – will be an ongoing challenge to humanitarian responders and Ukraine’s health system.”

“WHO and partners will continue to do everything in our power to implement immediate and longer term measures to address Ukraine’s health emergency.”

More than four million people have fled the country since Russia invaded, while 20,000 have been killed, according to Ukrainian officials.

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