Letters: HIV-stricken Ukraine facing crisis


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The Independent Online

Now that the European football championships have ended, the prospect is that public attention will move away from Ukraine. That would be a vast pity in at least one respect.

After Russia, Ukraine has the worst HIV position in Europe. The best estimate is that there are about 300,000 people with HIV, three times the number in the United Kingdom.

As I saw on a recent visit, the Ukraine government does all too little to prevent the spread. Although injecting drugs accounts for about half the cases, there are no government-run clean needle exchanges, a development which was tackled here as far back as 1987. Prevention efforts are left to civil society organisations such as the very effective International HIV Alliance.

But they now face their own problems. The Global Fund had financed their efforts but the fund's policy (driven by financial restraints) is to target aid on developing countries to the progressive exclusion of countries such as Ukraine.

These problems are going to take time to resolve but there is one issue that the Ukraine government can tackle straight away. As The Independent reported at the end of last year (1 December), the government has announced its intention to close the Lavra Aids clinic in Kiev, the leading clinic of its kind in Ukraine.

Extraordinarily, the pressure to close the clinic has come from its next-door neighbour, the Pecherskaya Lavra monastery.

There has been a clinic on this site since 1918. In the 1990s, it changed to a specialist clinic for HIV/Aids and, with a dedicated staff, has built up an outstanding reputation. It would be a symbol of a new approach to HIV in Ukraine if the government was to announce now its intention to reverse the policy of closure.

The Rt Hon Lord Fowler PC

House of Lords, London SW1

Tories find a fast way to lose the next election

News that the Conservative Party is considering cuts and means-testing of several benefits paid to the elderly in their 2015 manifesto is definitely music to the ears of a power-hungry Labour Party (letters, 11 July). Indeed, it would seem that the Nasty Party are eager to jettison as many votes as possible, particularly from the younger and older ends of the electorate.

Universal benefits have two key advantages. They are much cheaper to administrate, with eligibility checks being minimal. In fact, the low average income of pensioners means that only a small number will no longer to claim under means-testing, so skyrocketing costs could wipe out any modest saving made (unless benefits are taken from scores of the moderately poor as well, which is a different matter).

Second, the principle of universal benefits is that everyone contributes, and everybody gets something in return. Without this principle, the welfare system becomes vulnerable to the accusation that it is a means of merely penalising the middle, upper and even working classes merely to give perks (albeit modest ones) to an exclusive club of the very poor.

Decent public services, proper benefits for families and others who need them and well-built infrastructure all increase the prosperity of every social class. It is telling that the Conservatives are trying to expunge that mentality in Britain.

A government which had its priorities straight would think again about tax cuts for the super-rich and cosy tax deals with billion-pound multinationals before taking heating subsidies away from pensioners.

Jack H G Darrant

London SW2

Nick Boles's call that "better-off pensioners should lose their winter fuel payments and free prescriptions, bus passes and television licences" all depends on what is meant by being "better-off".

Means-testing is generally accepted as inefficient and costly but there is one method that might be accepted as reasonably fair, adding them to the basic pension as taxable income. This might be possible for winter fuel payments and television licences but is difficult to do for bus passes or free prescriptions.

But these should not be seen so much as perks for the elderly but rather a way of saving money on expensive social care that would be needed by increasingly house-bound and sick people.

A further consideration is that bus passes are, in essence, a subsidy for public transport. On off-peak services, most passengers are using them so, without them, they would not be profitable and would be withdrawn. Because of fixed overheads, it would then no longer be profitable to run buses unless fares were raised to such a high level that would not be attractive to car owners. The result would be no public transport, and gridlock on the roads, unless vast amounts were spent on road improvement.

In all, Nick Boles's call should be rejected as more an appeal to the unthinking prejudices of potential voters than a recipe for real savings.

Martin D Stern


Wealthy pensioners? How will they define wealthy? It won't just be the likes of Lord Sugar and Michael Winner who will lose their bus passes, it will be people of modest means who have worked hard, bought their own home, brought up families and who are probably already struggling with their household bills.

To have your pass taken away because your income is above the benefit threshold, and be forced to pay full fare will be another kick in the teeth for those who have contributed so much over their lifetimes. It will also be a major blow to the bus network and will result in declining patronage, with more routes being axed, increasing the areas that are bus deserts.

This is the latest in a long line of blows to senior citizens who've seen their jobs disappear, their pensions erode and now face penury. Cameron, Osborne and Clegg need to remember the voters who always turn out on election day, ones with long memories, who will give Tory and Lib Dem MPs early retirement.

Kevin Chapman


If democracy is just a tool for the business elite to advance their interests and deprive the majority of the right to advance theirs, it's no longer a democracy. People in democratic countries are being sidelined and the mockery of representation in parliament has rendered democracy a big farce.

The elite in UK still lives in an ivory tower, thinking it can save itself while attacking pensioners yet further, since the coalition government decided to index the annual increment to a lower measure of inflation instead of the one used before December 2010.

The £84bn it ripped off pensioners went to shareholders of investment companies running pension funds, instead of being spent on public services. Is its wish to scrap the winter fuel allowance, bus passes and free prescriptions, enough to bring down a government through popular revolt?

Alan Collins

Totnes, Devon

Termination of OAP free travel, free TV licence, free prescriptions and winter heating allowance to save money, may or may not have some merit, in some quarters.

But why stop there? The multi-billion bill for legal aid in the UK should also be abolished. It is just a job-creation scheme for lawyers. Created by lawyers, run by lawyers, fees set by the House of Commons and the Edinburgh government.

Both have Justice Ministers who are lawyers, and both Parliaments have many lawyers in their ranks. So they look after their own and will not allow any independent (that means non-lawyers) to have scrutiny of this gravy train for lawyers.

William Hayburn

East Kilbride, South Lanarkshire

Bankers live in a parallel universe

So Robert Jenkins of the Bank of England suggests that the banks could continue on their merry way, fleecing customers providing they hold more capital, capital taken from their customers in higher charges, presumably (report, 11 July). These people live in a parallel universe.

The banks have been naughty and have been caught out and fined by the regulator. Big deal, all that means is that the shareholders and customers get hit with the bill. And, as the pension funds are also shareholders, then the customer also gets hit through their pensions.

The villains who have perpetrated the crime, and it is surely a crime or why would the regulator fine them, gets away with it. Bonuses are at the root of the problem. When a bank (or any other business) is fined for acting improperly then the fine should be recovered initially from all of the bonuses paid at the time of the mis-selling.

Derek Tate

Melksham, Wiltshire

The banking inquiry is leading nowhere. The Leveson inquiry has been riddled with contradictions and possible perversions of justice. These inquiries simply don't work. We need to find another way to deal with these scandals. I demand that the Government immediately holds an investigation or inquiry of sorts into the issue.

Henry St Leger-Davey

Winchester, Hampshire

Bob Diamond calls his inquisitors by their first names. Why don't they object to this cynicism, then maybe they could ask a "killer" question. They haven't up till now.

Steven Calrow


No wonder M&S is in trouble

M&S non-food profits are down (report, 10 July). I am not surprised. I took an Australian honorary great-niece who had lost a bag of washing to its Princes St store. Result: knickers, a good choice; leggings, navy only, no black; long-sleeved tops, only black or white, not good fitting. In Next, she was horrified by the shoddiness of the T-shirts; the black leggings developed a hole in the seam after a day's wear. John Lewis at last brought a smile, with well-made, simply-styled, colourful, long-sleeved tops.

Marina Donald


So, left is right

This Government's two flagship pieces of legislation were "Loony Left" 30 years ago, abolition of the House of Lords and the redefinition of legal marriage to include same-sex couples. The first was most associated with Tony Benn, and the second with Ken Livingstone. Both are now the policy of the successor to the SDP and even of the Tory party. The only party less than unconvinced is Benn's and Livingstone's own.

David Lindsay

Lanchester, Co Durham

Not RIP. It's IOU

If David Cameron gets his way, gravestones will no longer be engraved with RIP, but with IOU ("Loans to let elderly cover cost of care — but must be repaid after death (11 July). On their death-beds, old folk will be tortured about the debt they leave, instead of the house in which they wanted their children to live.

Terry Duncan

Bridlington, East Yorkshire

That tears it

John Walsh may need to consult Boris (Trending, 10 July). When Andy Murray cried, it would have been a case of "in lacrimis veritas"."Lacrimae" is quite another case.

Evathia Phillips

London SW14

Dry solution

How to make the rain stop (letter, 9 July)? Easy: put weed-killer on the grass. It worked for us in 1976.

Jenny Fowler

Woking, Surrey

Summing up

"Classy clanger" (letter, 9 July) was bad enough. An uncle said his maths report read, "Much improved. Poor".

Mike Brayshaw

Worthing, West Sussex