Preventing Avoidable Blindness from AIDS in the Ukraine

A complication of HIV/AIDS that has almost been forgotten in the U.S. is CMV retinitis, an infection in the retina that does not warn the patient with redness or pain, and can cause sudden blindness.

Before 1995, CMV retinitis affected up to one-third of AIDS patients in the U.S., but has now virtually disappeared in this country with the wide availability of potent drug cocktails to treat HIV.

The situation is quite different for most of the 36 million people currently living with HIV/AIDS in other countries, more than 90% of whom live in poverty. These patients still risk going blind from CMV retinitis because of stigma around drug use, same-sex partnerships, and HIV/AIDS itself, combined with lack of access to healthcare, particularly doctors with appropriate eye care training.

Such has been the case in Ukraine, where Seva’s AIDS Eye Initiative Medical Director, Dr. David Heiden, held an in-depth training in July for six ophthalmologists to teach them how to diagnose and treat CMV retinitis.

More than 300,000 Ukrainians are currently living with HIV/AIDS, and data suggest that the country has the highest rate of HIV increase in any European country. By working with local doctors, Dr. Heiden’s training in Kyiv, Ukraine, will help to prevent avoidable blindness in this vulnerable population.

Dr. Heiden provided in-depth and hands-on lessons in diagnosing and treating CMV retinitis to workshop participants. By the end of the session, participating ophthalmologists indicated they had a high level of confidence in their ability to identify this debilitating condition. That’s good news for the hundreds of thousands of Ukrainians currently living with HIV/AIDS.

ABOVE: Active CMV retinitis.

Dr. Heiden helps examine a patient during a training at Botkin’s Hospital for Infectious Diseases, Saint Petersburg, Russian Federation in 2011.

Dr. Heiden training at Botkin’s Hospital for Infectious Diseases, Saint Petersburg, Russian Federation in 2011.

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