Ukrainian Government to Fund National Methadone And Buprenorphine Treatment

By Zachary Siegel 12/14/16

In 2015, Ukraine saw nearly 16,000 new HIV infections.

Ukraine parliament

To combat HIV and AIDS, the government of Ukraine has announced that it will fully fund a national opioid substitution therapy program, an approach known in America as medication-assisted treatment (MAT), for people who are addicted to opioids in 2017. 

Approximately $500,000 of the state budget will be earmarked for over 8,000 Ukrainian injection drug users to increase access to buprenorphine and methadone, drugs that help people addicted to heroin and other opioids get off the needle and regain control of their life. 

AIDS activists in Ukraine have hailed this move by the government as a “titanic achievement.” 

The World Health Organization lists methadone and buprenorphine as “essential medicines” for their ability to reduce mortality, crime, and in this case, blood-borne disease. People who inject drugs are at a much higher risk of contracting infectious disease than the average citizen. Providing buprenorphine and methadone is a proven way to lower risk. 

“We have taken a major step forward to increase public funding of HIV and Tuberculosis programs in Ukraine,” said Pavlo Rozenko, Vice-Prime Minister of Ukraine. “This is our ideological choice. It’s not just because of Ukraine’s international obligations. We do this primarily for those people who are faced with these serious diseases and need our help.” 

Ukraine has one of the highest rates of HIV/AIDS in all of Europe. For the last 12 years, Ukraine’s government has provided methadone and buprenorphine to injection drug users with financial support from the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, as well as technical support from the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS). The Ukrainian government will now fund the program to combat what’s been called a “hidden epidemic” in Ukraine. 

About 220,000 Ukrainians were living with HIV in 2015, the same year the country saw nearly 16,000 new HIV infections, according to the most recent estimates by UNAIDS. Increasing access to methadone and buprenorphine will help reduce the inordinately high incidence of HIV. 

“For the first time in Ukraine’s national AIDS response, its opioid substitution therapy program will be financed in full from the state budget,” said Dmytro Sherembey, chairperson of the group All-Ukrainian Network of People Living with HIV. 

“This is a titanic achievement of activists, experts and opinion leaders from the international community, government and civil society.” 

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Zachary Siegel is a freelance journalist specializing in science, health and drug policy. His reporting has also appeared in Slate, The Daily Beast, Salon, Huffington Post, among others. He writes often about addiction, sometimes drawing from his own experience. You can find out more about Zachary on Linkedin or follow him on Twitter.