News on COVID-19 from the region

DPNSEE publishes here news from our member organisations and countries of South East Europe related to outbreak of the corona virus COVID-19 in the region.

 

7 April

Organisation Terra from Rijeka provides food for homeless people. Their drop-in centre maintains needle exchange programme, but also gives away reusable masks and provides psychological support to people who use drugs and other vulnerable populations. Read more at the news following this link>>>

6 April

The Foundation for Open Society Macedonia, in cooperation with the Macedonian Red Cross, donated 100.000 USD for humanitarian support including food and hygienic packages for Roma population. It will be distributed to 2.000 families with around 10.000 people in 9 cities and villages across the country. Our member organisation HOPS will be among 6 civil society organisations that will organise the delivery.
More (in Macedonian) is available following this link>>>

2 April

We got a comprehensive information about activities of our member organisation Juventas from Montenegro about their activities on coronavirus outbreak. Have a look at http://dpnsee.org/2020/04/02/juventas-keeps-providing-services/

1 April

Four young volunteers from Prevent returned from the voluntary service in Cyprus by a special flight organised by the Government of Serbia. The plane also picked Serbian citizens from Thessaloniki.

After landing to Belgrade they were sent to a quarantine in the pupil’s campus “Patrijarh Pavle” where 11 people were diagnosed with the coronavirus – luckily, no one from the four Prevent volunteers. Yesterday, they were released home for a self-isolation.

We hope that they haven’t caught the virus and wish them to stay healthy.

***

ARAS translated and published in Romanian the INPUD’s instructions for protection against coronavirus for people who use drugs.

The version in Romanian is available at their website here>>>.

31 March

Timok Youth Centre from Serbia translated and published in Serbian the UNAIDS document “Suggestions about treatment, care and rehabilitation of people with drug use disorder in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic“.

The version in Serbian is available at their website here>>>.

The original document is available at the UNAIDS website following this link>>>.

***

An information from HOPS – Options for healthy living Skopje on their services during COVID-19 is available following this link>>>.

28 March

HOPS from Macedonia closed their drop-in centres but delivers sterile equipment and other material on call. Their administrative staff works from home.

 

27 March

The practitioner in CAZAS, Montenegro Nikolina Tomović prepared the text on “Patient rights in the time of corona“. The text is available at their website here>>>.

 

26 March

Timok Youth Centre from Serbia translated and published in Serbian the UNAIDS leaflet “What people living with HIV need to know about HIV and COVID-19“.

The version in Serbian is available at their website here>>>.

The original document is available at the UNAIDS website following this link>>>.

***

Juventas from Montenegro is still providing services for PWUD/PWID, SW and former prisoners:

  1. Distribution and exchange sterile injecting equipment (needles, syringes, cookers, alcohol, tourniquets, distilled water) every day except weekend from 17h to 21h, and outreach once a week from 20 to 22h. They are now doing outreach just in Podgorica and in this week they have distributed bigger amount of equipment to our clients outside Podgorica, due to the new measures – ban of traffic between cities. They will distribute more, if needed.
  2. Distribution of condoms and lubricants, in above mentioned working hours.
  3. Washing and drying clothes service, every working day from 17h to 21h.
  4. Online consultations and consultations over the phone, with their peer workers, social workers doctor and psychologist.
  5. Lunch packages with essential groceries, once a week.

25 March

ARAS from Romania reported that they face the problem of drug users returning to Romania from Italy and wanting to enter the methadone treatment. But, they cannot accept new patients anymore, because this means a long period of coming daily to our centre and they cannot guarantee it will stay open.

23 March

Our member organisation Labyrinth from Kosovo sent us information about their activities related to coronavirus outbreak:

From the last week, we have temporarily closed the Drop in. Our clients can’t stay in premises of Labyrinth, but they continue to take all the services we have, especially the Methadone Maintenance Therapy. From this week 120 clients that are in programme of Methadone Maintenance Therapy are separated in three groups, and they take away methadone for one week.

Clients can take sterile equipment. We give them information how to protect themselves from covid 19, including IEC materials, gloves, disinfectant. Unfortunately we don’t have enough masks to give them.

We have temporarily interrupted the psycho-social services, outreach activities.

From this week only necessary staff is working. Also we have started to disinfect the Labyrinth premises.

21 March

ARAS translated into Romanian the UNAIDS leaflet “What people living with HIV need to know about HIV and COVID-19”.

This version is available at their website here>>>.

20 March

Organisations Cazas and Juventas published information and instructions for protection against coronavirus in Montenegrin.

18 March

Organisation Juventas from Podgorica, Montenegro prepared “homemade” bottles with alcohol for people who use drugs they serve because the shipment of alcohol wipes they ordered was blocked at the border. A great initiative and true commitment!

16 March

Team of the Association Duga from Šabac, Serbia, visited suburbs with Roma populations and various vulnerable populations to inform them about preventive measures against coronavirus. They dedicated special attention to those who recently returned from the areas with high epidemics – Italy, Germany and Austria – who either came to visit their families back home or returned from seasonal work (especially sex workers).

This action was supported by the Regional Programme on Local Democracy in the West Balkans (ReLOaD), financed by the European Union and implemented by the UNDP Office in Serbia.

 

14 March

Together with our member organisations Prevent and Re Generation, DPNSEE have prepared information and instructions for protection against coronavirus in Serbian for people in risk from vulnerable populations we support. We used several sources: INPUD, Leafly, Crew and BesD. These instructions will be available in various institutions and civil society organisations in Serbia.

 

13 March

On the initiative from civil society organisations, following the DPNSEE Public appeal to protect vulnerable groups from coronavirus COVID-19, a meeting was called by the Office for Combating Drugs of the Government of Republic of Serbia to discuss the measures to protect people who use drugs and other connected vulnerable groups. The meeting was held on 13 March with representatives of the Office, Ministry of Health, Special Hospital for Addictions and four civil society organisations. News about the meeting is available following this link>>>.

 

7 March

Association Margina from Tuzla, Bosnia Herzegovina had a meeting with the people who use drugs they serve. Besides general issues (creating a community organisation, initiative for opening a public institution for addictions and therapy in the Tuzla canton, etc.) a special part of the meeting was dedicated to prevention measures for coronavirus.

 

5 March

Association “Prevent” shared larger quantities of sterile equipment to the users and other key populations they support in Belgrade, to make sure that they have it and use it in case of restrictions of move which are expected.

 

2 March

DPNSEE published a Public appeal to protect vulnerable groups from coronavirus COVID-19

Drug Policy Network South East Europe shares concern that the health systems may not have fully in their sight the key populations we are supporting (people who use drugs, sex workers, LGBTI and MSM, homeless, etc.) and that these populations, being side-lined in the community, may not be well informed about the threat and measures they should take to protects themselves.

 

28 February

Our colleagues from member organisation Terra, Rijeka, Croatia informed us that controls at the borders are reinforced, especially those with Italy. They keep informing users about the protection measures. The users show no sign of panic which is already present in some media. They give away vials with alcohol antiseptic. This is very important because most of the users they serve are homeless.

***

Slovenian authorities accepted the invitation from the Alliance of Non Governmental Organisations for Drugs and Addictions in Slovenia. The meeting is scheduled for Monday 2 March.

Luckily, there are no cases of corona virus in Slovenia.

 

27 February

The Alliance of Non Governmental Organisations for Drugs and Addictions in Slovenia send an invitation for a meeting with governmental institutions. The invitation was sent to the Ministry of Health, Ministry of Labour, Family, Social Affairs and Equal Opportunities, National Institute for Public Health and Center for Treatment of Drug Addiction at Psychiatric Clinic Ljubljana.

***

Croatia confirms third case of corona virus infection, this time in the northern Adriatic city of Rijeka where our member organisation Terra works – https://t.co/c3bApgAoJo. Our thoughts are with our colleagues there.

 

26 February

North Macedonia’s Health Ministry today confirmed the first case of a corona virus infection in the country – https://t.co/cHyFTqZgVt.

A woman from Skopje seems to have contracted the virus after returning from a one month stay in Italy. Our colleagues from HOPS and Coalition “Margini” operate in that city.

***

Greece’s first confirmed COVID-19 case, a 38-year-old woman admitted to a special ward at AHEPA hospital in Thessaloniki, was reported to be in relatively good condition on Wednesday – https://t.co/dB1B0YWEwg

***

Our member organisation Cazas from Montenegro posted a tweet advising those interested to contact the national Institute for public health for more information about the corona virus.

Terra Association Programs in the Age of Coronavirus Outbreak

Our member organisation Terra sent us information about their work in the new circumstances caused by the coronavirus outbreak through the words of two of their staff.

Marko Mušković, Program assistant on the program to increase social inclusion of the users of the City of Rijeka Emergency Accommodation

As of 1 June 2018, the Terra Association has been implementing a program to increase the social inclusion of beneficiaries of City of Rijeka emergency accommodation, which, as far as field work is concerned, has been paused at the request of the National Civil Protection Headquarters, due to the need to protect our users and the association staff.

But these almost two years of work in three locations covering the necessary accommodation have proven useful now when we are able to provide help not to all, but probably the most vulnerable citizens, in their elementary need – nutrition. Namely, the drastic reduction of the public transport lines necessary for the beneficiaries to go to one of the four points of public kitchen prevented them from exercising their right to use the food service, which for many is the only opportunity to consume freshly prepared food.

Therefore, since 26 March 2020, in cooperation with the Department of Health and Social Welfare of the City of Rijeka, the head of emergency accommodation Mrs. Nevenka Kovačević and the City of Rijeka Red Cross Society, whose staff prepare the food, a hot meal is provided at all three locations. The number of beneficiaries (and thus the meals) is almost every day increasing, and some of them are using this service for the first time.

As a rule, meals are distributed outside, in front of the necessary accommodation. Exceptionally, due to the poor health of individual beneficiaries, meals are delivered to their doorstep. A record is kept of each user: whether or not he has taken over his meal, with the possible note that, if done, the food has been handed over to a neighbour or friend.

On this occasion, we thank our dear beneficiaries for their patience, adherence to social distancing, respect for order in distributing meals process, and readiness to use protective masks and gloves. Also, we have to mention the important role of the Centre for Social Welfare, especially social workers, who through their tireless work have promptly enabled their beneficiaries to exercise this right.

Without diminishing the importance of meeting the basic necessities of life, for our part, we try to additionally “spice up” every bite – with a warm word.

Ilijana Grgić, Harm reduction program assistant

Terra Association Drop-in centre is closed to visitors from March 16 and the injection equipment (needles, syringes, ampoules of distilled water, alcoholic wipes, condoms and lubricants) is distributed through a so-called ”window”. We notice that our clients take more equipment than usual, which indicates the creation of supplies. Thanks to the donation of Neosalon, since Monday we have been sharing reusable masks to the clients of our programme.

Since last week, needle exchange programme has been operating from 11 am to 2 PM. Some of our clients are working, so they cannot come during the specified hours. For them and some others, there is a telephone line available, which they can call and arrange another time of picking up the injection material.

Psychological support is still being provided, but over the telephone. Our colleagues are in regular contact with numerous clients and their family members.

Users still have the opportunity of using the telephone; this is very important for them, to contact their doctor and loved ones. Of course, the telephone and the space around the Drop-in centre are regularly disinfected.

Considering that currently there is no option of using the kitchen, food is being provided for the clients of poorer economic status.

Except the information about the working hours, clients have been introduced to the recommendations of the National civil protection headquarters and Basic measures of protection against the new corona virus for drug users, provided by DPNSEE.

At the Gea Counselling Centre, we are in ongoing online communication with all our beneficiaries through social networks (Facebook and Instagram) and different application platforms like Viber, Whats App, Skype and Zoom. Counselling centre staff members’ phone numbers and e-mails are published and visible on all of our social platforms.

 

Juventas keeps providing services

We got a comprehensive information about activities of our member organisation Juventas from Montenegro about their activities on coronavirus outbreak. Here it is:

The services we deliver to persons using/injecting drugs, persons providing sexual services and ex-prisoners, although under different circumstances, are still functioning, along with new Corona preventive measures to protect staff and clients introduced:

These are:

  1. Distribution and exchange of safe injection equipment (syringes, needles, cookers, medical alcohol, elastic tourniquets, …) in Drop in centres and during outreach
  2. Distribution of free condoms and lubricants in Drop in centres and during outreach
  3. Service of washing and drying of laundry and garments (on a regular basis, but now even more so as a part of measures preventing the spread of Corona virus)
  4. Online and phone counselling with outreach and expert workers (doctor, psychologist, social worker)
  5. Delivering food packages for the ones most economically challenged (once per week, quantity for 7 days)

 According to measures issued by the Government, all external partners/associates are forbidden to provide additional services in prison. On the other hand, we are supporting the work of this institution by providing materials for in prison tailoring of protective masks throughout the framework of a project we have.

We also deliver services to the LGBTIQ community in cooperation and synergy with activities of community led organizations NGO Queer Montenegro, LBTQ Women’s Association “Stana, and Trans/Gender Variant persons’ Association “Spectra”.

All the services that we deliver to the LGBTIQ community are the following: 

  1. Distribution of free condoms and lubricants – NGO Juventas
  2. Online and phone counselling with outreach and expert workers (doctor, psychologist, social worker) – NGO Juventas
  3. Service of washing and drying of laundry and garments (on a regular basis, but now even more so as a part of measures preventing the spread of Corona virus) – NGO Juventas
  4. Delivering food packages for the ones most economically challenged (once per week, quantity for 7 days) – NGO Juventas and NGO Queer Montenegro
  5. Peer online and phone individual and group counselling and support – NGO Queer Montenegro
  6. Free legal aid – NGO Queer Montenegro
  7. Peer online and phone individual and group counselling and support for LBTQ women – LBTQ Women’s Association “Stana”
  8. Online self – support group for trans and gender variant persons- Association “Spectra”
  9. Individual online and phone consultations for trans and gender variant persons – Association “Spectra”

All communication (online/phone/in person with all preventive measures in place) is being instigated by our outreach and expert workers and completely needs focused.

Online communication with all our communities is being done via social networks (Facebook, Instagram and Twitter) and different other social application platforms like Viber, Whats App, Skype and a new app called Houseparty that provides different social games next to persons involved being able to converse. 

It is important to mention that staff members’ phone numbers are published and visible on all these platforms. Also, we have prepared detailed specific guidelines for our team and our clients. Together with partners, we have been advocating for protection and human rights of all communities we are working with from the beginning of the epidemics.

Read more at their website following this link>>>

 

HOPS – Options for healthy living Skopje and services during COVID-19

Taken from the HOPS website

After the announcement of the corona virus pandemic, harm reduction services were modified but all clients were covered.

Drop-in centres for harm reduction of HOPS are closed, but each service has a special phone number and contact person that meets the needs of users. They can also contact the services through all social media (Facebook , Twitter , Instagram , Website) where all the news related to harm reduction from the coronavirus and all the new recommendations for protection of the population from and the World Health Organisation the Government are continuously published.

Mobile field teams operate every day, where users with pre-made contact are visited in front of their homes. The team is formed in dependence on the need of the clients (therapeutic and social worker, therapeutic and medical worker, therapeutic and lawyer). In accordance with the recommendation of the Government, there may be a maximum of two people in one vehicle. Field teams distribute sterile utensils (needles, syringes, distilled water, condoms and lubricants) daily and inform customers about all news related to the coronavirus and instructions and advice on protecting public health (such as the recommendations from INPUD).

HOPS team at work even in surprisingly bad weather conditions

HOPS, in cooperation with other humanitarian organizations, is also planning humanitarian actions in order to provide food and hygiene packages for the most vulnerable populations. Once a week, the medical person (doctor) must be part of the field team in order to assess the general health of the population and to react in a timely manner if necessary.

Substitution therapy centres carry out their activities smoothly and clients regularly receive their therapy. The staff employed at the methadone centres has increased the level of protective measures. They don’t allow more patients to be gathered (therapy is raised one by one) and fully follow the recommendations for protective equipment from the government of Northern Macedonia and the WHO.

For now, our team is working bravely, without obstacles and is dedicated to support all those in need. We thank them for their empathy and sacrifice during these strange times.

 

Edit (6 April)

The Foundation for Open Society Macedonia, in cooperation with the Macedonian Red Cross, donated 100.000 USD for humanitarian support including food and hygienic packages for Roma population. It will be distributed to 2.000 families with around 10.000 people in 9 cities and villages across the country. Our member organisation HOPS will be among 6 civil society organisations that will organise the delivery.
More (in Macedonian) is available following this link>>>.

 

HOPS appointed the Acting Executive Director

Announcement for appointment of Acting Executive Director of HOPS

In times of extraordinary circumstances the Association HOPS – Healthy Options Project Skopje is experiencing, due to the sudden death of our dear colleague and Executive Director Mr. Ivica Cekovski, the Steering Committee has reached a decision to appoint Ms Hadji Sterjova Simnovic as an Acting Executive Director of the organization. This decision is a temporary one, with a duration of three months, i.e. until the state-of-emergency ends in our country and proper conditions for electing and appointing new Executive Director will be created. The position of Acting Executive Director entails the same responsibilities and obligations as an Executive Director.

Ms Sterjova Simonovic ќ is an attorney, with a long-standing experience working for HOPS and has an indispensable experience and knowledge in its activities, as well as the communities it represents.

We lost Ivica

It is with our deepest sorrow that we learned of passing of Ivica Cekovski, the Executive Director of HOPS, North Macedonia.

It was a joy to work with Ivica. He was calm, nice, organised and eager to give a helping hand. He was a wonderful person who will be so sorely missed.

We join our friends from HOPS with thoughts of comfort in helping them get over the immense void left behind by the loss of our beloved colleague Ivica. Words cannot express our sorrow. Ivica will be missed.

Instructions on coronavirus in Serbian

Together with our member organisations Prevent and Re Generation, DPNSEE have prepared information and instructions for protection against coronavirus in Serbian for people in risk from vulnerable populations we support. We used several sources: INPUD, Leafly, Crew and BesD.

The instructions are printed in 500 – 2.000 copies to share to the key populations.

These instructions will be available in various institutions and civil society organisations in Serbia. We expect that they will be adjusted to local languages in some other countries of South East Europe.

General harm reduction tips for people who use drugs
General prevention measures against coronavirus COVID-19
Instructions for people who take drugs snorting
Instructions for people who use cannabis
Instructions for people who go clubbing
Instructions for sex workers

Together against coronavirus

On the initiative from civil society organisations, following the DPNSEE Public appeal to protect vulnerable groups from coronavirus COVID-19, a meeting was called by the Office for Combating Drugs of the Government of Republic of Serbia to discuss the measures to protect people who use drugs and other connected vulnerable groups. The meeting was held on 13 March with representatives of the Office, Ministry of Health, Special Hospital for Addictions and four civil society organisations.

All participants agreed that vulnerable groups need to be supported for their personal and protection of the entire society. Conclusions include

  • By noon on Monday 16 all service providers will send estimations of their needs for materials they need to protect the key populations they serve and their staff. The Office for Combating Drugs will collect them and send a joint request to the Ministry of social affairs. Once they are provided, they will be distributed to the organisations.
  • The Office will also request for an information about the needs of the shelters for children, young people and elderly and try to organise support to them.
  • Funds for the additional support will be requested from the project supported by the Global Fund and Ministry of Health, at least for the staff supporting the key affected populations.
  • Civil society organisations are preparing specific instructions for people who use drugs and other vulnerable populations and share them both through social networks and printed materials.

 

Javni poziv za zaštitu ranjivih grupa od korona virusa COVID-19

The Public appeal to protect vulnerable groups from coronavirus COVID-19 which DPNSEE issued on 2 March 2020 was translated into Croatian, Montenegrin and Serbian and circulated across the region.

Here are these versions:

Public appeal to protect vulnerable groups from coronavirus COVID-19

To:

National health authorities and institutions

National drug agencies and responsible

National social services

Civil society organisations

 

The World Health Organization (WHO) has declared a public health emergency of international concern over a new coronavirus, which causes an illness officially known as COVID-19 that has killed more than 2,900 people worldwide. As of 1 March, the outbreak has affected an estimated 87,000 people in at least 30 countries globally. The key issues are how transmissible this new coronavirus is between people and what proportion become severely ill and end up in hospital.

Outbreak of the epidemic in Italy, neighbouring country to our region, brought the virus to our region. First cases were reported at the bordering cities of Trieste and Gorizia near Slovenia, but also in Austria, Croatia, Romania, North Macedonia and Greece. It is pretty realistic that they will appear in other South East European countries.

We believe that the health systems in South East Europe countries and wider are well prepared and will react efficiently, without panic but also taking situation seriously.

Still, Drug Policy Network South East Europe shares concern that the health systems may not have fully in their sight the key populations we are supporting (people who use drugs, sex workers, LGBTI and MSM, homeless, etc.) and that these populations, being side-lined in the community, may not be well informed about the threat and measures they should take to protects themselves.

Governments have to ensure that all individuals have the opportunity to remain healthy and educated. Alongside preparedness measures, countries must ensure efforts to achieve a truly inclusive universal health coverage grounded on rights-based laws, policies and procedures by prioritizing and protecting vulnerable groups.

To combat stigma and discrimination and achieve universal health coverage vulnerable populations are faced with, we must not divide ourselves further. Viruses don’t discriminate on the basis of race, religion, gender identity, lifestyle or sexual orientation.

On our side, DPNSEE and our member organisations, especially those who provide services to people who use drugs and other connected vulnerable groups, are ready to play they role in overall efforts to fight the problems caused by this epidemic. We have already started prevention activities and are preparing for situation when/if epidemics escalates.

DPNSEE is a regional network with a wealth of experience from around the region. We think that this is the situation when we all should act together, for the benefit of all members of our societies.

 

Drug Policy Network South East Europe

2 March 2020

 

You can download the Appeal following this link>>>