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Member Research & Reports

Member Research & Reports

Yale: Study Urges Life-saving Drug Treatment to Combat Ukraine’s HIV Epidemic

A new study led by Yale University researchers finds that scaling up use of methadone and buprenorphine — medications for treating opioid use disorder known as opioid agonist therapies (OATs) — could greatly reduce human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) transmission rates and prevent deaths in Ukraine, where the disease is epidemic among people who inject drugs.

The study was published in The Lancet.

Annual new HIV infections in Ukraine — home to Eastern Europe and Central Asia’s second largest HIV epidemic — rose from 9,500 in 2010 to 12,000 in 2018, according to the study. New infections are likely to increase by approximately 60,000 over 10 years without additional interventions.

The researchers found that treating at least 20 percent of people with opioid use disorder who inject drugs — the minimum recommended by the World Health Organization — could, over 10 years, prevent more than 10,000 new HIV infections and nearly 18,000 new deaths.

Currently, only 2.7 percent of people who inject drugs in Ukraine receive OATs, despite their proven effectiveness.

“Opioid agonist treatments are one of the most effective treatments for opioid use disorder and preventing HIV infections,” said co-author Lynn Madden, a Yale postdoctoral associate in internal medicine and head of a foundation focused on substance use disorders and mental illness.

Senior author Dr. Alexei Zelenev, Yale associate research scientist in medicine, said the healthcare system in Ukraine needs modernization, and HIV testing needs to be expanded, as only 56 percent of the population with HIV are aware of their infected status.

Dr. Frederick Altice, professor of medicine, epidemiology and public health at Yale, and a co-author, said the study reveals the importance of scaling up evidence-based treatments to prevent new HIV infections and death.

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