I had the privilege of talking to Anna Kryukova after a training in Kyiv, Ukraine organized by UNDP and its partners (ITPC-ru, AGORA and ECUO) on legal awareness for people living with and affected by HIV.
The meeting was part of a regional project on HIV, rights and universal access in Eastern Europe, supported by the European Union.
Q: Why do you think it’s important to work on human rights, stigma and discrimination issues in the context of HIV?
Anna Kryukova: Everybody has an equal right to medical care and should be comfortable when applying for medical care. We have to make sure we are comfortable and protected in our country. So, this is very an important issue. It’s important to work with doctors, nurses, and service providers too.
Q: From international experience, when there are human rights violations, people who need access to HIV services don’t have access because either they are afraid to access those services or because of they are drug users, sex workers, or men who have sex with men. What do you think?
AK: Yes, many people encounter barriers while accessing healthcare services because they belong to a vulnerable population that is stigmatized and discriminated against.
But it’s not just a problem of people and individuals – the system itself should be changed.
And there is also the problem that healthcare providers are vulnerable themselves. We need to work with this group carefully and inform them of issues pertaining to HIV.
We also need to recognize that patients may not be able to access healthcare for reasons that are not purely legal. Fear is also something we need to tackle. And doctors and medical providers also have fears – they fear HIV infection and other risks when treating patients living with HIV.
So, we need to work with both patients and medical providers to understand what is going on in the system as a whole. This analysis can help inform new legislation and legal reform related to HIV treatment and healthcare.
Q: What areas does your organization (“Open Medical Club” Charitable Foundation (OMC)) focus on when it comes to HIV and human rights?
AK: We work on human rights and patient care. So we work with every group that is connected with the issue of healthcare: medical doctors, patients, representatives of health care facilities, and activists.
Social workers are also a very important group because the Government works closely with them when devising state programmes, strategies and policies. So, we should also have them on board to educate, consult, and help in drawing up legal documents.
An example of the work we do that we’re really proud of includes helping women get their parental rights back. These women were both HIV-positive as well as former drug users, and we managed to achieve this goal in just two court sessions due to careful preparation.
We also helped a former drug user keep his right to have a driver’s license and a car. The prosecutor would have otherwise revoked his license. And we’ve had cases concerning unqualified medical care. Those stories are sad, but we’ve been able to help them get some financial settlements, which helps.
Q: Looking forward, what do you think needs to be done to strengthen the HIV response in Europe?
AK: I’m an advocate for constructive dialogue between the authorities and people living with HIV. And not just patients, but lawyers, and others who represent the interests of HIV positive people. This is the first important thing.
Strategic litigation is also crucial when legislation doesn’t always work, and we need to go further in guaranteeing and protecting human rights. Strategic litigation should, firstly, be attempted on the national level, but we should also think about international law and international ways of protecting human rights.
Finally, the Government and lawyers should help people become more aware of their rights through education. When people are aware of their rights, they are better able to protect them in the first place.