Belarus HIV programme gets new lease on life

A doctor pours a liquid into a plastic glass hold by a patient
An intravenous drug user receives methadone, a substitution therapy which helps eliminate the risk of contracting HIV

Minsk, Belarus – 19 February, 2013 –
 Since 2007, Belarus has assisted people living with HIV and those at risk of infection, helping many to return to a normal life. Last week the country took another step forward when a $15 million grant agreement on HIV and AIDS was signed by UNDP and the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria together with national partners.


The agreement will ensure that Belarus continues to receive funding to help prevent the spread of HIV and ensure adequate treatment, care and support for people living with HIV. The activities under the agreement are the mainstay of the country’s HIV programme.


Endorsing the agreement was the country coordinating mechanism, a group bringing together representatives of civil society, government bodies and people living with HIV as well as people affected by tuberculosis.


"Successful and efficient"

"Belarus is considered one of the most successful and efficient countries in terms of implementation of Global Fund grants," said Sanaka Samarasinha, UN Resident Coordinator/UNDP Resident Representative in Minsk at a news conference.


Under the programme, methadone substitution therapy is being provided to intravenous drug users to reduce the incidence of HIV transmission. Currently 910 people receive the therapy through 16 facilities across the country. Some 1,300 people have benefitted from the treatment since the programme started in 2007.


Many of those assisted have found jobs and restored their family life and parental rights. More than 70 percent of the intravenous drug users have been retrained; 57 percent are employed, eclipsing the five to 10 percent employment rate for active drug users in the general population.


"Thanks to this programme I feel confident about the future," said one 29-year-old substitution therapy patient. "My wife and I want to start our own business, at least a small one at the beginning. I do not plan to stay in the programme for my whole life."


The substitution therapy programme has demonstrated its benefits. According to UNDP calculations, the cost of the programme for 1,300 people per year is $474,500, a significant saving considering illicit drug consumption by the same number of intravenous drug users costs $23.7 million per year.


The goal: independence from donor funding

Expenditures for the substitution therapy programme amounted to $1.2 million from January 2010 to July 2012. The goal is to eventually ensure sustainable operation of the substitution therapy network, independent of donor funding and supported by the Government.


Antiretroviral therapy is being provided to people living with HIV who are in need of treatment. In Belarus an average of 116.5 out of every 100,000 people are infected; HIV prevalence among general population is currently 0.2-0.3 percent. Today, 4,200 people including over 140 children receive treatment.


The country has one of the highest treatment coverage rates in the region, reaching 95.4 percent. People living with HIV in Belarus who need antiretroviral therapy receive free medicines thanks to financial support provided by the Global Fund grant administered by UNDP.


The National HIV programme is focused on helping key populations most at risk of HIV infection: intravenous drug users, men who have sex with men, sex workers and prisoners.


The programme has expanded the coverage of people with anti-retroviral treatment, improved laboratory diagnosis and training of healthcare staff, and enhanced the quality of care and support. In order to achieve these benefits, more than 30 legal regulations have been introduced.


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