Wednesday 26th of February 2020, 00:18 CET
HIV-Infected in Rural Ukraine Are Far From Assistance
September 2, 2002
Tehran Times

Posted by HW on February 26, 2020

ODESSA/KIEV -- Dima Reznikov (28) believes he has AIDS. He has a hacking cough, open sores, and trouble lifting even moderate weights. The former dockworker concedes he might even die in the near future, DPA reported.

The Ukrainian says he could care less, because no one else does.

He might be right.

Reznikov lives, during the summer anyway, in a partially-built house outside the Black Sea port Odessa. The region is Ukraine's hardest-hit by AIDS.

Ukrainian Health Ministry officials, however, are fairly convinced Reznikov doesn't exist. If they wait long enough, they might be right as well.

Health Ministry officials estimate 36,000 Ukrainians are registered HIV-positive with health clinics. They admit more are infected unregistered, but maintain the difference is not significant. "Frankly, the numbers of unregistered HIV-positive Ukrainians is regularly exaggerated," said Alla Sherbitska, chairwoman of Ukraine's national center for combating AIDS. "Frankly, the AIDS situation is under control."

Independent organizations, like the international HIV/AIDS alliance, believe Ukrainian government figures to be understated by as much as ten times. Ukraine's population of 48 million could be dangerously close to the 1 percent total infection rate that medically defines an epidemic, they say.

Oleksander Sydiachenko, a doctor at the Odessa department for infectious diseases, has produced computer models showing that at present growth rates, AIDS will by 2010 infect around 1.8 million Ukrainians.

The key factors to contain what already is Europe's worst HIV- infection rate, health experts agree, are determining the real number of HIV-sufferers, how frequently those infected come into contact with healthy persons, and how effectively Ukrainian officials like Sherbitska keep tabs on the situation.

Sherbitska says the government is doing a good job.

Reznikov said he had not spoken with a health professional in "at least" the last half decade. His entire life is off the books.

He lives in a lean-to, drinks usually boiled water from a nearby brook, and eats vegetables stolen from nearby farms. (Ukraine's black earth provides rich summer harvests.) Like most Ukrainian drug users, Reznikov shoots up what amounts to a strong tea boiled from poppy sticks; a hypo costs a little less than two dollars. He takes a fix "two or three" times a week, he said. Most often it is a social activity, with one of the other region's homeless.

He obtains money, Rezninkov said, by collecting scrap metal - a common rural means of support. Nearby summer cottages with residents only during weekends would be another source of income for the larcenous, but Reznikov says he won't do that as it would attract police attention.

Nevertheless, when police infrequently drive by Reznikov's lean- to, he hides. He is not listed in any health register and has never received identification papers from the modern state of Ukraine. He says there are "dozens" of people like him living in the woods and half-built homes nearby.

Odessa is a big city and fairly warm, so it attracts hundreds of drug-using drifters from Ukraine's north, and even, according to Reznikov, from neighboring Russia and the Baltic regions.

Ukraine's government last year only devoted a half-million dollars to program fighting AIDS, but over a dozen international organizations are working in the former Soviet republic. Urban HIV- sufferers in nearby Odessa, for instance, have access to a clinic offering a full support program, with modern medications. But even Sherbitska admits less than 100 Ukrainians nationwide are actually receiving modern treatment for HIV.

AIDS tests at government-run Ukrainian Health Clinics are free, and Reznikov is aware AIDS can spread through tainted needles. He admits that sharing his home and his needles with others is dangerous, for him and for every one else in the country. "But if I go to a clinic, and I test positive, I will get on a government list," Reznikov predicted. "And then they (government) will put me in a room and close the door. They don't have money for medicine. I will just be locked in a hospital until I die ... for me that's no answer. I would rather die free."
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