Genetics: the war in the Donbass has accelerated the spread of HIV in Ukraine

© Fotolia / Dr_KaterynaВирус HIVGenetics: the war in the Donbass has accelerated the spread of HIV in Ukraine© Fotolia / Dr_Kateryna

. The number of people living with HIV in Ukraine can increase dramatically in the coming years because of mass migrations of refugees from war-torn regions of Donbass and deterioration of the medicine, say scientists in an article published in the journal PNAS.

«In Ukraine, a country with 45 million citizens who now lives about 220 thousand people living with HIV, the highest figure for Europe. The epidemic began in the 1990’s, and then it spread among drug users. Today the situation is very different – 80% of new victims of the virus were infected during heterosexual sex, and half of them did not know about their infection,» — says Tatiana Vasilyeva from the University of Oxford (UK).

In the world today, according to the Global Burden of Disease, there are approximately 39 million people infected with HIV, and each year his victims becomes approximately 1.2 million men and women. Some of the highest indicators both in the number infected and the number of new infections in Europe today are typical both for Russia and for Ukraine.

Vasilieva and her colleagues from British universities and Ukrainian research institutions conducted the first assessment of how the current military conflict in Eastern Ukraine has affected how often people become infected with HIV and where today is concentrated the virus.

Scientists worried by several factors that can accelerate the spread of the virus, including a sharp drop in living standards, the absence of a proper system for the prevention of HIV and for monitoring the condition of known carriers of the disease, and the fact that moving infected people to a new place of residence is often accompanied by outbreaks of infection.

Guided by these ideas, Vasilieva and her colleagues analyzed about five hundred blood samples collected Ukrainian doctors in the period from 2012 to 2015 in the different regions of the country, including in the Donbas. Scientists have deciphered a part of the virus RNA coding for the proteins needed to build new copies of HIV, and compared them with each other, restoring the tree of evolution of the virus.

The structure of this part of the genetic code, thanks to the ultra-high rate of appearance of new mutations in HIV is changing rapidly in its distribution in the population, which allows scientists to trace the path of the virus and the migration of its speakers even at such a small number of samples.

A similar analysis of the genomes of HIV confirmed the suspicions of scientists is the frequency of migrations of its speakers has increased dramatically in 2014, with most of the threads these «viral» migrants were sent to the West. The main «exporters» of infection was made by the Donetsk and Lugansk, where before the war lived a large number of heroin addicts and HIV carriers.

Carrying the virus, as shown by genetic data, moved from war-torn regions in Central and southern Ukraine, where, as noted by the geneticist that there was a «conducive environment» for the spread of the virus sexually because of lacking basic knowledge about protection from such infections. Least of all these events touched the Crimea – there were only about 3% of infected refugees.

As scientists believe, all this, coupled with the deterioration of access to antiretroviral drugs for refugees, will lead or has already led to a significant increase in the number of HIV-infected in Ukraine, and will create a situation in which the number of new victims of the virus will grow each year, not decrease, as it did before the conflict began.