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1 million people tested for HIV, increasing access to antiretroviral therapy and reducing the stigma of HIV in Ukraine

 

Such results were announced on June 5, 2024 during the final conference of the HealthLink project “Accelerating Ukraine’s Efforts to Counter HIV/AIDS”.

The HealthLink project lasted seven years and became the largest health care response to the HIV/AIDS epidemic in Ukraine. It laid the foundation for sustainable change and made the country one of the region’s leaders in responding to the HIV epidemic.

 

Key achievements of HealthLink in Ukraine include supporting health sector reform to improve access to HIV testing and treatment, a large-scale communication campaign on the disease and the importance of treatment, training health care workers in stigma reduction and the latest testing methods, enrolling tens of thousands of patients in treatment, and investing in health facility capacity building to help meet the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic and a full-scale invasion.

 

“HealthLink is indeed one of the largest projects in the health sector. In 2017, it started as a planned project to fight HIV and new challenges such as the COVID-19 pandemic and full-scale war; HealthLink quickly expanded its activities to support the capacity of the health system in times of turbulence. This project has truly become a pillar of sustainability for patient services, hospitals and physicians. This is an example of a highly effective partnership with international donors, the public sector and the state,” said Ihor Kuzin, Deputy Minister of Health of Ukraine, Chief State Sanitary Doctor.

 

The project was implemented by the largest patient organization in the country CO “100% LIFE” in partnership with the ICF “Alliance for Public Health” with the support of the United States Agency for International Development (USAID). USAID investments in the project amounted to $37 million.

“The HealthLink project contributed to achieving the UNAIDS 95-95-95 target in Ukraine, which aims to end HIV as a public health threat by 2030. The project developed innovative platforms and practices that helped improve the quality of testing and access to health services, and moved the Ukrainian government closer to achieving these goals. Through HealthLink, USAID continues to work to ensure that people living with HIV have access to critical medical care, even in the face of service disruptions and security challenges,”said James Hope, USAID’s country director in Ukraine. 

 

 

Thanks to HealthLink, 1 million people have been tested for HIV, including 26,000 who have learned their HIV-positive status – one in three new cases in Ukraine. 96,000 HIV-tested people were also tested for hepatitis and 6,700 for syphilis. 22,000 people living with HIV received antiretroviral therapy for the first time, and 381 people returned to treatment. Also, 1,700 people received PrEP for the first time.

 

 

“On behalf of all the people in Ukraine who have been diagnosed with HIV, I would like to express my gratitude to the entire broad network of partners of the U.S. Embassy in Ukraine, the PEPFAR program, the HealthLink project, and all those who have contributed to its implementation for their support and for the opportunity to make lasting changes in approaches to combating the spread of HIV. Today, 126,000 Ukrainians who use ART can lead a normal life, and this was made possible mainly thanks to the project,”said Dmytro Sherembey, Chairman of the Coordinating Council of CO “100% Life”. 

With the support of health sector reform, HIV testing and access to antiretroviral therapy have become available at the first level of care: the family doctor and the hospital. This has significantly improved HIV detection and the quality of medical care for people living with HIV. Today, 95% of people living with HIV are on treatment.

 

 

Since the beginning of the implementation of HealthLink, the project has been based on a partnership between, among others, the Ministry of Health, the Center for Public Health, the National Health Service (NHSU), us — CO “100% Life” — and the Alliance for Public Health. As well as 27 non-governmental organizations that set up regional processes.

More than 600 healthcare facilities have joined the project, from large regional hospitals to district-level health facilities that have never used rapid HIV testing. People could be tested even in small settlements where there was no such opportunity before. In addition, during the implementation of the project, 152,000 oral tests and more than 76,000 vaults were distributed, which made it possible to cover the testing of the groups most difficult to include in medical care and to achieve the project objectives during the COVID-19 lockdown.

 

 

Prior to the HealthLink project, the level of stigma against people living with HIV was high, mainly due to a lack of information and the widespread belief that HIV was the end of a normal life. But the communication campaign for the population and the training of medical personnel helped to overcome fear and mistrust on both sides. As part of the project, prozdorovia.in.ua was created, the first website with information about HIV in Ukrainian, where you can find proven facts about the virus, how it is spread, prevention, and much more.

“As part of the HealthLink project, we had the opportunity to strengthen the communication campaign, which covered a large number of Ukrainians. Thanks to our cooperation, millions of our citizens have learned about the possibility of receiving free medical services,”says Nataliia Husak, Head of the National Health Service of Ukraine.

Thanks to HealthLink, more than 10,000 health workers have received anti-stigma training, and 14 million Ukrainians have interacted with a communication campaign or been exposed to HIV-themed materials. This contributed to physicians being less afraid to offer testing to patients and patients being less afraid to seek testing. In addition, there has been a significant increase in the number of people living with HIV who are on treatment, which is critical to containing the epidemic because only treatment allows patients to maintain their health and lead a normal life, minimizing the risk of spreading the virus.

 

 

Thanks to the donor’s comprehensive support during the project implementation, investments were made in the health sector of Ukraine, which was critical during the COVID-19 pandemic. The digital infrastructure on which Ukraine’s electronic health system is built is part of the HealthLink program investments in Ukraine. At the donor’s expense, 20 stand-alone oxygen generation stations for hospitals identified as reference during COVID-19, 19 portable blood gas analyzers for patients on mechanical ventilation, as well as 4 centrifuges, an ice maker and consumables for virus research laboratories were purchased.

 

Film HealthLink Project: Support in Shaky Times

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