[Ip-health] ART: Ukraine Crackdown Hits Fight Against AIDS
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/
epidemics say their task may get “catastrophically” harder following the
introduction of controversial laws in Ukraine in response to months of
Among legislation introduced this week – dubbed a “charter for
some international rights groups – is a new law forcing NGOs that
foreign funding to register as “foreign agents” or face hefty fines and
For many years Ukraine has had one of the world’s fastest growing HIV/
Copied almost exactly from similar legislation introduced recently in
the law not only puts a label with derogatory Cold War connotations on
society groups, but, crucially for many, also forces them to pay tax on
For organisations in the front line of response to the country’s
AIDS epidemic, this could spell disaster.
Pavel Skala, a senior policy manager at the International HIV/AIDS
Ukraine, the largest NGO in the country working on tackling the
IPS: “The new law will be catastrophic for local NGOs, making things
for organisations working with HIV/AIDS sufferers and providing harm
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/
epidemics, according to United Nations figures, and currently has the
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
of corruption and incompetence leading to shortages of life-saving anti-
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
Meanwhile, despite the epidemic having been historically driven by
drug use – there are an estimated 290,000 injecting drug users in the
European state – authorities have been either hostile to, or reluctant
adopt, harm reduction practices that have been hailed a success in
halt the spread of HIV/AIDS in many Western states.
The government’s approach to the disease has already had consequences
its spread is tackled. When it was discovered that the government in
paid more than 25 times the market price for anti-retroviral drugs,
Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria started to channel much
funding to civil society groups.
This has led to the front line response to HIV/AIDS among high-risk
such as drug addicts and sex workers being taken up by third sector
These organisations have focused on prevention programmes, including
These services already seem to have had some success. In 2012, for the
time, the rate of new HIV infections in Ukraine dropped. This was put
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
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,
170,000 drug users in more than 300 cities through its own services
of more than 170 partner organisations across the country it helps
The organisation is registered as a charity and, as such, should be
any tax on its own funding from the Global Fund. But many of its
which are sub-recipients of that money, are civil society groups and
forced to register as foreign agents.
The International HIV/AIDS Alliance Ukraine has told IPS that under
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
concerned about this [new legislation]. It is potentially a very
development for the situation in the country because so much of the
response is carried out by civil society in the Ukraine.
“The problem is that …money from the Global Fund should be tax free
law is unclear and so there is now doubt. We have spoken to partners
Ukrainian Health Ministry and they are all of the opinion that the
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
been battling tax and customs officials over duties it claims
wrongly trying to impose on its import of syringes. It argues that it
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
to be stored at a special facility at the Alliance’s cost.
This does not bode well for certain state bodies’ approach to the
the foreign agent law.
“There have already been problems with the tax authorities over taxes
import of syringes and it looks like the Ukrainian tax authorities are
unwilling to make any exceptions. Now we fear there may be further
with this [Global Fund money],” said Tyszko.
But even if civil society groups working on the front line of the HIV/
response in Ukraine find some way to carry on without vital foreign
the new law will still hinder their work, said Skala.
He told IPS: “Organisations will be marked out as foreign agents, seen
spies, and the legislation will give law, tax and other government
the opportunity to carry out checks on these organisations when they
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
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
been contacted by the state security service and questioned about their
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