In July 2022, UK-Med and NHS Infectious Disease Doctor Stephen Owens travelled to Ukraine on a fact-finding mission to support the HIV/AIDS epidemic, sparked by the ongoing conflict.
Based at the Great Northern Children’s Hospital, Stephen was brought to Ukraine to run a one-week assessment and workshop program after the impact of the conflict on HIV/AIDS and Tuberculous was flagged for concern.
“I’ll meet with colleagues and the Ukrainian health service. We’ll look at ways to help reconfigure their HIV and tuberculosis services, to cope with the internally displaced population – some of whom are suffering from those infections – and attempt to train primary health care physicians to help with the caseload,” Stephen explained.
“I’m excited to be going. I’m a little nervous. It’s different from most of the things I’ve done before, but it’s a challenge and it seems like an important thing to be part of.”
A threat to the progress made against HIV
According to Ukraine’s Department of Health, an estimated 40% of HIV+ people are undiagnosed. This is a long-standing problem which has increased due to the arrival of internally displaced people (IDPs) from the frontline of the conflict. HIV testing is currently only available to vulnerable groups, but wider testing in the city could make a significant impact by identifying cases early.
During his first days in the Western Ukrainian city of Lviv, Stephen met with local Doctor Olenka. Together they visited family doctors and polyclinics (clinics that provide care and advice on many health conditions), as well as temporary accommodation blocks for IDPs across the city.
260,000 people in Ukraine are estimated to be living with HIV. Modern treatments mean people living with HIV can live healthy and full lives without passing on the virus, but the conflict is threatening to set back the fight against the virus by:
Simply put: without access to their regular medication and support, people living with HIV/AIDS can rapidly find their wellbeing deteriorate as well as spreading the virus.
Taking a patient-orientated approach
Meeting with Elias Pavlopoulos, our Medical Team Lead in Ukraine, Stephen met with 45 health staff and led an ‘HIV Testing in Polyclinics’ workshop. Different themes arrived from the workshop discussions – particularly around how to drive demand for HIV testing in the city and how to train family doctors on testing more. Another issue, too, was that some of the participating staff reported not having enough HIV tests at their clinics.
As the workshop discussed different issues and how to approach them, the staff roleplayed a patient-clinician consultation to fully embrace the patient experience and what a patient-orientated approach would look like. These are all findings that will be brought forward and presented into next steps for supporting health staff to manage the issue.
Watch Stephen’s video diaries taken throughout the week.
“It’s been an incredible week,” Stephen said during his journey to the UK through Poland. “I’ve learnt a lot and hopefully that info will be used to help support Dr Olenka and the team in the city health department to move forward with HIV testing in the coming months.”
Thank you to Stephen for sharing an insight into his week with us, and most importantly, his assessments of the ongoing HIV/AIDS issue in Ukraine and recommendations for what can be done next.
A special thank you to Max, Dr Olenka, Nazar and Anastasia for being with us this week.