Activists criticise AIDS conference on opening day: Russian ban on substitution drug treatment is an ‘Iron Curtain’ to ARV treatment

On 3 May 2008, at the Eastern European and Central Asian AIDS Conference (EECAAC) in Moscow, activists chided government officials for not allowing people to attend the conference with methadone or buprenorphine, medications prescribed in most of the world to treat drug addiction and reduce the risk of HIV transmission.

“It is unacceptable that for the second time, a critical forum for addressing the AIDS epidemic has been held in a country that bans medicines proven to prevent HIV,” said Raminta Stuikyte of the Eurasian Harm Reduction Network.

“Hundreds of people across Eastern Europe and Central Asia rely on methadone and buprenorphine to improve their lives. These important voices have been shut out of the conference yet again,” added Dr. Konstantin Lezhentsev of All-Ukrainian Network of People Living with HIV.

Methadone and buprenorphine, which are on the World Health Organization’s Model List of Essential Medicines, are prescribed in many countries throughout the region, where injection drug use accounts for more than 70 percent of cumulative HIV cases. Many AIDS activists from these countries, including Azerbaijan, Belarus, Estonia, Georgia, Kyrgyzstan, Latvia, Lithuania, Moldova, Ukraine, and Uzbekistan, were unable to attend the conference because they are undergoing methadone or buprenorphine treatment.

In advance of the conference, drug user community activists and harm reduction providers in Ukraine produced video testimonials of people who are on buprenorphine treatment to be shown in the conference community space. The people in the video discuss how the treatment has helped them stabilize their lives and stop injecting drugs. They also express frustration at being shut out of the AIDS conference.

“The failure of global health leaders to ensure the full participation of communities highly affected by HIV directly undermines the goals of the conference,” Stuikyte added.

The petition is available online in Russian

Source: EHRN press release (Eurasian Harm Reduction Network, 3 May 2008).

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