Courtesy of AHF
On a warm spring afternoon, a team of dedicated health care workers stood huddled around a desk in an HIV clinic in Kyiv, Ukraine, steadily boxing up items to be delivered to their clients. But these care packages were not the typical sort with tasty treats or scarce toiletries—these contained lifesaving medicines to treat HIV.
Facing strict COVID-19 lockdowns that shut down the entire public transit system, the AHF Ukraine team adjusted its operations to continue providing all its usual services with the Test & Treat Clinic staff sending up to 100 weekly postal deliveries for ARVs (antiretroviral medicines) to local and rural areas. Telemedicine was also added to AHF’s services for consultations that supported nearly 700 clients from March through May.
“The AHF Ukraine team, like many others, have adapted to new and complicated living and working conditions,” said AHF Ukraine Country Program Director Dr. Yaroslava Lopatina. “Our entire team has mobilized so that our clients remain adherent to treatment and receive the services they need. And no matter what we do and in what conditions we find ourselves, we remember that the people we support are always at the center of our efforts!”
The ramping up of telemedicine incorporated several novel initiatives, including taking AHF Ukraine’s ART adherence support program online. Counselors and doctors conducted virtual meetings that supported clients in both large cities and remote villages with consultations on HIV and COVID-19, alcohol dependence, depression, anxiety, and the importance of remaining on treatment.
“The pandemic showed how important it is to be united and to know that there are people who, despite difficulties, are ready to help each other,” said Alona Slomynska, AHF Ukraine Community Mobilizer. “Many patients felt anxiety and concern about the inability to receive help and were afraid to remain without support. We always stayed in touch and were ready to respond to the requests of our clients by consistently working to find new solutions to help them.”
With 240,000 people living with HIV, Ukraine has the second largest HIV epidemic in Eastern Europe and Central Asia, and as of 2018, only 52% of those were receiving antiretroviral treatment. AHF Ukraine currently serves 47,220 clients in the country.