STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:
The headlines in Ukraine are all about Russian interference. But let's remember, Russia intervened after a government was forced out of office. That government was forced out for many reasons, but one of them was complains about corruption. The corruption remains widespread. Sometimes it kills people. In the medical system in Ukraine, pharmaceutical corruption means sick patients are unable to get treatment that could keep them alive. NPR's Ari Shapiro has the story.
ARI SHAPIRO, BYLINE: I recently took a Ukrainian taxi ride that should have cost $20 dollars but the cab driver insisted that I pay $30. When I finally gave him the $30, the driver gave me a receipt with a wink. I looked down and saw he had made out the receipt for $40. He got a cut by overcharging me and assumed I would take a cut by overcharging NPR which, by the way, I did not. That's the way life works in Ukraine.
Nobody died because my cab driver was corrupt. But the exact same behavior has far greater consequences when the government buys medicine to treat fatal diseases. Andriy Andrushkiv is with a group called the All-Ukrainian Network of People Living with HIV and AIDS.
ANDRIY ANDRUSHKIV: Because of the corruption here in Ukraine, we don't have enough treatment to treat all of the people in need.
SHAPIRO: Here's what's happening: On the international market, an HIV pill costs a dollar. Ukraine's government tells the public the international price is $10. Corrupt middle men buy pills for a dollar apiece and sell them to the government for five times the price. Then the government says - look. We bought this $10 pill for only $5. Andrushkiv has heard the routine over and over.
ANDRUSHKIV: And the government say, ho! We are cool guys! And we say oh, what bull (bleeped). Here in the international market the price is five times less than you buy, guys. Why are you making fools of us?
SHAPIRO: Because of this corruption, there are only enough drugs to treat half the HIV patients in Ukraine. The same problem affects people with tuberculosis, cancer, and other serious illnesses.
ANDRUSHKIV: (speaking foreign language)
SHAPIRO: At a cheap cafe in Kiev, Andrushkiv is arranging for me to meet a pale middle-aged man with blue-grey eyes. He has asked us not to use his name. He was already fired from one job when his boss learned that he has HIV. He and his wife were diagnosed three years ago, when his wife was pregnant with their second child.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN: (through translator) Of course we didn't think it would happen so quickly. And that things would go so terribly. If we could turn the days back, maybe the situation would have gone differently.
SHAPIRO: Right after he and his wife were diagnosed with HIV, they tried to get treatment. They were put on a waiting list. Eventually his wife got sick. She was sent to a hospital, where there was still no medicine for her.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN: (through translator) For two weeks, nobody from the hospital showed any interest in treating her. Once she was going to the bathroom and nobody helped her. Nobody took her hand. She fell and started bleeding. They only did something when I showed up. They didn't even change her bed sheets.
SHAPIRO: Finally, the doctors told him she's going to die anyway. Just take her home. His wife died almost six months ago. She was 38. They used to work together every day. She would decorate aquariums and stock them with fish. He would clean the tanks. Each morning when he wakes up now, he feels a slight shock to discover she's not there.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN: (through translator) I still feel it. I still feel it and it's very difficult. My children feel it too. They sometimes call for their mama because they still feel her presence.
SHAPIRO: Do they understand what happened?
UNIDENTIFIED MAN: (through translator) They are too small to understand.
SHAPIRO: His kids are now three and eight.
STEVE DAVIS: There's no question, corruption leads directly to death.
SHAPIRO: This is Steve Davis, CEO of a major global health organization called PATH. His group does work in Ukraine, among many other countries. I met up with him in Kiev.
DAVIS: It's easy to say maybe we shouldn't do much work in a place like this. But the reality is the places in the world that most vulnerable people are, are often places where there's a lot of corruption. So I don't think the answer is let's not go work there.
SHAPIRO: He says the answer is to support the reformers. Boost the people trying to change the existing system and in the meantime, try to work around the especially rotten parts. Ari Shapiro, NPR News.
INSKEEP: And you hear Ari's reporting from Ukraine right here on MORNING EDITION from NPR News.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)