Scores of Russian and Ukrainian media featured stories last month claiming the war in the eastern Ukrainian Donbas region, was causing a huge spike in AIDS. An article from the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States (PNAS), which is the source for these inaccurate claims, states that there is a redistribution of existing HIV infections in Ukraine, it does not claim that there is a new outbreak of HIV infections. Ukraine’s Health Ministry Community Health Center also refuted these claims as fakes.
Russia’s Lenta.ru set the fakes in motion by featuring some accurate quotes from the Proceeding of National Academy of Sciences article and combining it with erroneous conclusions and contrived “facts”. Other Russian sites simply followed suit.
Elise.com declared that Ukraine is infected with AIDS because of the war in Donbas, the newspaper Segodnya hailed that the war has brought on a terrible infection. Lenta.ru went even further claiming that the Maidan revolution, the Crimea crisis and the war in Donetsk and Luhansk regions have negatively impacted Ukraine’s medical care and increased the risk of infections.
Ukrainian sites Segodnya, Korrespondent, 24 Channel, Fakty, Elise.com, 62ua, glavnoe.ua, narodna-pravda.ua, citynews.net.ua, replyua.net unquestioningly reprinted the fake story as well as Russian sites Tsargrad, Gazeta.ru, Vzglyad, cbsmedia.ru, NewsfFront and many others.
The American scientific article entitled Molecular epidemiology reveals the role of war in the spread of HIV in Ukraine examines the movement of HIV positive persons from the occupied territories in eastern Ukraine to the rest of the country, thus raising the number of HIV infected persons in those regions. As the article points out, the spike in the number of infections is proportionate to the number of internally displaced persons from the east registered in Ukraine. The authors of the article conclude that their analysis reflects the redistribution of existing infections and not new infections with Donetsk and Luhansk, two cities not controlled by the Ukrainian government in eastern Ukraine, being significant exporters of the virus to the rest of the country.
Ukraine’s Health Ministry Community Health Center refutes Russian media spin on the PNAS article. According to a UNAIDS analysis of HIV prevention and AIDS treatment in conditions of conflict in eastern Ukraine, the war has destroyed the necessary care infrastructure in the occupied territories and impacted on the quality and quantity of services available, creating preconditions for HIV infected people to move to Ukraine controlled territory. According to the Center’s prognosis, the rates of HIV infections in Ukraine will gradually decline over the next four years and the estimated number of deaths from AIDS will be halved.
According to the HIV in Ukraine bulletin, the spread of HIV in 2017 rose by 5.5% compared to 2016, while the spread of AIDS rose by 14.4% during the same period. (HIV, the human immunodeficiency is a virus that attacks the human immune system and may cause an infection. AIDS is a condition or a syndrome. Being infected with HIV can lead to the development of AIDS – acquired immunodeficiency syndrome.)
The highest levels of HIV infection were registered in Odesa, Dnipro, Mykolayiv, Kherson, Kyiv and Chernihiv regions, areas where many war zone displaced persons have settled. According to the Bulletin the increase is driven by wider medical treatment of HIV positive persons identified previously and the shortage of HIV testing in previous years which limited timely verification of positive results and the monitoring of HIV positive patients.
According to UNAIDS data, in 2016 Ukraine had 17,000 new HIV infections and 240,000 people living with HIV, nearly 40% of whom were accessing antiretroviral therapy.