This is the story of Anastasia who fled the war in Ukraine to Finland and found a way to continue her antiretroviral treatment.
Anastasia only had two days to prepare to leave her home and her country. She was not thinking of her HIV status or antiretrovirals (ARVs) when planning her departure from Ukraine. She found help from Finland through a Facebook page. Everything happened fast and there was so much to do and so many other things to think about when planning.
Mixed feelings and emotions were high, as she was leaving her home which had turned into a battlefield and where safety was no longer guaranteed. Although Anastasia had visited Finland previously, there was a lot to do to get settled, including finding a place to live in, paperwork with the government’s office, and looking for a job.
More than three months passed in Finland before she started to think about her HIV treatment. She had been out of the ARV medications for a while already. She was in a foreign country where she knew very few people and with whom she did not want to share her HIV status. Even back in Ukraine, Anastasia had not told her family or her friends about her HIV status. How could she talk about it in a foreign country to foreign people? At the same time, she was starting to worry more about her health. She wanted to stay healthy.
Anastasia had not seen any HIV-related information on the websites of the immigration office or the refugee center, but when searching the internet she found a patient organization called “HivFinland”. She gathered all her courage and visited the center. She was so relieved to notice that she was the only visitor in the center at the time. The staff member who welcomed her arranged a translator to help with the conversation. Anastasia does not remember much about the conversation except the total relief when she heard that the center would not disclose her HIV status to anyone.
“When I went to the patient organization, I told them that I wanted information for a friend. I was too worried to tell them it was me who needed the help. But when we started to talk, I became convinced that they were not going to talk about my HIV status to anybody. So I opened up and told them that it was me. I needed the medications.”
With help from the patient organization, she got an appointment a week later at the infectious diseases clinic where she was given medications. She has been on treatment ever since. Anastasia fought her fears and found her way to treatment by being proactive. She believes that the internet is the best way to inform refugees coming from Ukraine about HIV care and treatment.
Countries in the Nordic-Baltic Sea Region continue to reach out to refugees who need HIV or Tuberculosis care and treatment. They aim to ensure that all those in need are able to access the required medicine and treatment just like Anastasia. Access to information about these services remains of paramount importance.
(To ensure anonymity the name has been changed)
Text: Anna-Leena Lohiniva, Chair, the HIV, TB & AI EG, and Tappu Valkonen, Community Worker, HivFinland