On June 8, as part of comprehensive support for the Ukrainian people living with HIV fleeing the country due to the war and coming to the Netherlands, AFEW International in partnership with Vera Varyga, a representative of the Ukrainian organisation Positive Women, and HIV Vereniging, have hosted the first group meeting. HIV-positive migrants were able to share their experiences, support each other, ask questions, receive help in making appointments with the HIV departments and receive humanitarian aid. The meeting took place at AFEW International’s office in Amsterdam.
“I came to the Netherlands from Ukraine. Can you tell me how to get the therapy here?”. All my talks with HIV-positive people have started with such kinds of questions. Ukrainians in the Netherlands started approaching me from the moment when AFEW International and I published a story about me being ready to help, says Vera.
“Answering these questions, I was sharing my experience and the information I have found on official resources, and handed out tips on what to say, how to say it, where to go, and which local apps to download. Ukrainians are escaping their countries without knowing neither English nor Dutch, and the main barrier for them is to share their status with the family doctor, as the registration at the HIV center in Holland is only possible with a referral from a general practitioner. Among those who came there are people from Bucha, Irpen, and Mariupol, they left the country under a lot of stress, when they came here, they could finally feel safe, and they are very grateful to the Dutch. But these people are very worried that their hosting families or the administration of the social camps might find out about their HIV status. They are afraid that they will be treated worse and will have to find a new temporary shelter. From my own experience, I can say that this is an unproved mistrust of Dutch doctors. Often it is a consequence of self-stigma, to which people living with HIV in Ukraine are subject, or the trauma experienced after a person’s HIV status was inappropriately disclosed in the past. Eradicating these attitudes is a long-term process, and we plan to work further in this direction.
We have had several meetings with AFEW International and HIV Vereniging, the Dutch national organization supporting people living with HIV. As a result of their efforts, as of today, HIV departments can admit Ukrainian HIV-positive people without a family doctor’s referral. We also published a list of frequently asked questions and answers in Ukrainian on the HIV Vereniging website: www.hivvereniging.nl/ukraine. Such a way people who need help will know what to do and where to go.
People with HIV continue coming to the Netherlands, so we will continue to support and help them to get diagnosed, treated and adapted, focusing on the problems and needs that were voiced by the participants.
In the coming weeks, a consortium made by Vera Varyga, AFEW International and HIV Vereniging plans to expand its activities to better support Ukrainians living with HIV in the Netherlands.