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Ukraine: Changes to legislation threaten HIV response
Civil society groups working in the HIV and AIDS field in the Ukraine have expressed serious concerns about recent changes to government legislation. In response to ongoing anti-government protests, controversial laws are being introduced, which restrict access to overseas funding. The national response to HIV and AIDS in the Ukraine is primarily led by civil society and is heavily reliant on funding from outside the country, due to poor government commitment to the issue. New legislation includes a law stipulating that non-governmental organisations (NGOs) in receipt of external funding must register as ‘foreign agents’ and pay the associated taxes. Failure to do so will result in large fines or closure of the organisation.
The Ukraine has had one of the fastest growing HIV and AIDS epidemics in world for many years and has the highest rate of HIV infection in Europe. Yet, coverage of antiretroviral treatment for people living with HIV is currently lower than 40 percent. The key affected group in the Ukraine is injecting drug users, but the government has historically been reluctant to support harm reduction programmes - a proven method of curbing the HIV epidemic in other parts of the world. As such, NGOs and other civil society groups have largely coordinated the HIV response in recent years and in 2012 new HIV infections in the Ukraine decreased for the first time.
The potential damage of this new legislation is huge as many civil society groups and organisations responding to HIV will no longer be able to operate. For example, the International HIV/AIDS Alliance in Ukraine, the largest implementer of HIV programmes nationally, has stated that the high-level taxes associated with registering as a ‘foreign agent’ will force their partners to close. Alliance Ukraine is a principal recipient of funding from the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, TB and Malaria, the largest funder of HIV programmes internationally. They have 170 partner organisations that they sub-grant these funds to around the country – under the new law these organisations must register as ‘foreign agents’ and pay related taxes, although Global Fund money should be tax-free.
AVERT condemns the introduction of legislation that restricts the ability of civil society to provide life-saving HIV and AIDS services to those most at risk.