HIV-positive Ukrainians protest clinic closure

One of three HIV-infected patients of the specialized Lavra hospital in Kiev who remain handcuffed to the steel frame of a bed as they start an unlimited protest against a government decision to force the closing and relocation of the HIV patients care unit, on September 12, 2013

Patients at Ukraine's main HIV hospital on Thursday handcuffed themselves to their beds in protest at plans for its closure.

Three HIV-positive patients at the clinic in central Kiev handcuffed themselves to their beds in front of television cameras to protest at plans by the country's medical establishment to close the unit.

"This is a war. Every war has victims. The cynical, cruel decisions taken by the Academy of Medical Sciences also have a price: our lives," said one of the protesters, Anna Konstantinova.

The Kiev clinic, run by the Institute of Epidemiology and Infectious Diseases, is exceptionally well-equipped and staffed for Ukraine, one of the ex-Soviet countries with the highest rate of HIV infection.

"This is the only place where people can save their lives and fight HIV," said another protester, Sergei Dmitriyev from the city of Kharkiv in eastern Ukraine, where there is no in-patient facility for HIV-positive patients.

Since 2011, the hospital, which has around 9,000 registered patients from all over Ukraine, has been at the centre of an acrimonious conflict over its planned closure.

The in-patients complained that the government had promised to keep the clinic open until a new purpose-built hospital was built in Kiev, but was now pressuring the staff to move the patients out before it was ready.

According to UNAIDS, around 350,000 people are infected with HIV in Ukraine, which has a population of 46 million.