[Ip-health] ART: Ukraine Crackdown Hits Fight Against AIDS

Céline Grillon international at actupparis.org
Wed Jan 29 08:46:54 PST 2014


                            Ukraine Crackdown Hits Fight Against AIDS
                                     By Pavol Stracansky

KIEV, Jan 25 2014 (IPS) - Groups battling one of the world’s worst HIV/ 
AIDS
epidemics say their task may get “catastrophically” harder following the
introduction of controversial laws in Ukraine in response to months of  
anti-
government protests.

Among legislation introduced this week – dubbed a “charter for  
oppression” by
some international rights groups – is a new law forcing NGOs that  
receive
foreign funding to register as “foreign agents” or face hefty fines and
closure.

For many years Ukraine has had one of the world’s fastest growing HIV/ 
AIDS
epidemics.
Copied almost exactly from similar legislation introduced recently in  
Russia,
the law not only puts a label with derogatory Cold War connotations on  
civil
society groups, but, crucially for many, also forces them to pay tax on
foreign income.

For organisations in the front line of response to the country’s  
raging HIV/
AIDS epidemic, this could spell disaster.

Pavel Skala, a senior policy manager at the International HIV/AIDS  
Alliance in
Ukraine, the largest NGO in the country working on tackling the  
disease, told
IPS: “The new law will be catastrophic for local NGOs, making things  
harder
for organisations working with HIV/AIDS sufferers and providing harm  
reduction
services. The HIV/AIDS epidemic in Ukraine would only get worse.”

For many years Ukraine has had one of the world’s fastest-growing HIV/ 
AIDS
epidemics, according to United Nations figures, and currently has the  
highest
rate of HIV infection in Europe.

Successive governments have been criticised over their approach to the
disease. Local and international health groups have highlighted poor and
muddled policy and inadequate funding while there have also been  
accusations
of corruption and incompetence leading to shortages of life-saving anti-
retroviral drugs.

According to UNAIDS, the Joint U.N. Programme on HIV/AIDS, less than 40
percent of people with HIV in Ukraine receive anti-retroviral drugs. For
comparison, the rate in some sub-Saharan African countries is around 80
percent.

Meanwhile, despite the epidemic having been historically driven by  
injection
drug use – there are an estimated 290,000 injecting drug users in the  
East
European state – authorities have been either hostile to, or reluctant  
to
adopt, harm reduction practices that have been hailed a success in  
helping
halt the spread of HIV/AIDS in many Western states.

The government’s approach to the disease has already had consequences  
for how
its spread is tackled. When it was discovered that the government in  
2004 had
paid more than 25 times the market price for anti-retroviral drugs,  
the Global
Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria started to channel much  
of its
funding to civil society groups.

This has led to the front line response to HIV/AIDS among high-risk  
groups
such as drug addicts and sex workers being taken up by third sector  
groups.

These organisations have focused on prevention programmes, including  
harm
prevention.

These services already seem to have had some success. In 2012, for the  
first
time, the rate of new HIV infections in Ukraine dropped. This was put  
down to
the widespread implementation of harm reduction programmes.

But provision of these services may now be at risk.

Under current national legislation, Global Fund financing is exempt  
from any
taxation. But there are doubts that this will continue to be the case
following the introduction of the new “foreign agent” law.

The International HIV/AIDS Alliance Ukraine implements the largest HIV
prevention programme in the Eastern Europe and Central Asia region,  
supporting
170,000 drug users in more than 300 cities through its own services  
and those
of more than 170 partner organisations across the country it helps  
finance.

The organisation is registered as a charity and, as such, should be  
free of
any tax on its own funding from the Global Fund. But many of its  
partners,
which are sub-recipients of that money, are civil society groups and  
will be
forced to register as foreign agents.

The International HIV/AIDS Alliance Ukraine has told IPS that under  
the new
laws it will not be able to pass on Global Fund financing to its local
partners as the subsequent taxes would force them to close.

UNAIDS country coordinator for Ukraine, Jacek Tyszko, told IPS: “We  
are very
concerned about this [new legislation]. It is potentially a very  
negative
development for the situation in the country because so much of the  
HIV/AIDS
response is carried out by civil society in the Ukraine.

“The problem is that …money from the Global Fund should be tax free  
but the
law is unclear and so there is now doubt. We have spoken to partners  
in the
Ukrainian Health Ministry and they are all of the opinion that the  
Global Fund
money will still be tax free. But they are not the only ones involved.”

Related IPS Articles

Reclaiming a Waste Land Called Ukraine
Ukraine Media Under Attack
AIDS Spreading Fast Across East Europe
East European War on Drugs Fails
Since September last year, the International HIV/AIDS Alliance in  
Ukraine has
been battling tax and customs officials over duties it claims  
authorities are
wrongly trying to impose on its import of syringes. It argues that it  
should
be exempt under laws related to Global Fund financing and its  
activities as a
specific healthcare provider.

As the dispute has dragged on, millions of syringes remain impounded  
and have
to be stored at a special facility at the Alliance’s cost.

This does not bode well for certain state bodies’ approach to the  
group under
the foreign agent law.

“There have already been problems with the tax authorities over taxes  
for the
import of syringes and it looks like the Ukrainian tax authorities are
unwilling to make any exceptions. Now we fear there may be further  
problems
with this [Global Fund money],” said Tyszko.

But even if civil society groups working on the front line of the HIV/ 
AIDS
response in Ukraine find some way to carry on without vital foreign  
funding,
the new law will still hinder their work, said Skala.

He told IPS: “Organisations will be marked out as foreign agents, seen  
as
spies, and the legislation will give law, tax and other government  
authorities
the opportunity to carry out checks on these organisations when they  
want and
try and change what they do.

“Social workers may be targeted by authorities, there will be a hostile
atmosphere for them to work in, and people at these organisations will  
be
afraid. Everything would be harder for them.”

This appears to be the case already. The International HIV/AIDS Alliance
Ukraine told IPS its partners are already worried, with at least one  
having
been contacted by the state security service and questioned about their
funding.
http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/01/ukraine-crackdown-hits-fight-aids/

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