Candlelight Memorial in Serbia

The International AIDS Candlelight Memorial, coordinated by the Global Network of People living with HIV (GNP+), is one of the world’s oldest and largest grassroots mobilization campaigns for HIV awareness in the world. Started in 1983, the International AIDS Candlelight Memorial takes place every third Sunday in May and is led by a coalition of community organizations in many countries.

The Candlelight Memorial serves as a community mobilization campaign to raise social consciousness about HIV and AIDS. With 38 million people living with HIV today, the International AIDS Candlelight Memorial serves as an important intervention for global solidarity, breaking down barriers of stigma and discrimination and giving hope to new generations.

Due to extraordinary situation caused by the coronavirus outbreak, the Union of people living with HIV in Serbia held the Memorial on Saturday 30 May. The community members, friends, civil society activists and health institution representatives gathered in the premises of the organisation Philanthropy. We sent our thoughts and prayers to those who died of AIDS, lighted candles over the large red ribbon sign and released red balloons with messages of support for those who live with HIV.

Philanthropy prepared packages with food and hygienic materials for PLHIV in hard living conditions. Priority was given to students, unemployed, people with disability, those with severe medical problems and pensioners with monthly pensions lower than 30.000 RSD (approximately 250 EUR).

Streetwork Project in Athens and Thessaloniki

The “Streetwork Project” – an initiative of the two clubs “Checkpoint” and “Red Umbrella Athens” and “ARISTOTLE” – was created in 2013 and over the years has approached vulnerable groups such as users of psychoactive substances, refugees, immigrants, sex workers, men who have sex with men and the homeless. The project implements actions in central parts of Athens and Thessaloniki and provides information services, harm reduction, referral to other agencies and organizations. It also intervenes to promote prevention, regular screening and safer sex and distributes leaflets, condoms and synergies for safer use for intravenous users.

The Streetwork Project addressed the additional needs that emerged in the field during the pandemic, due to the restrictive measures. At the same time, the partial suspension of organizations and agencies providing support services to vulnerable populations has exacerbated the situation, as many of their homeless fellow citizens are already facing severe food problems. That’s why they adjusted their actions, extended our working hours and days.

On Tuesday, March 31, 2020, through the websites and social media of the clubs, they issued the first call to the public to strengthen this effort. The response was very moving.

On Monday, April 27, 2020, due to the growing needs, they started a crowdfunding campaign to raise more food, bottled water, juices, snacks, protective medical material (masks, gloves, antiseptics) and personal hygiene items.

If you want to make a cash donation, crowdfunding campaign can be found here>>>. It will be available until May 30, 2020.

So far, they have collected:

  • 1,600 kit of sanitary material for injectable use
  • 6,000 disposable gloves
  • 4,500 protective masks
  • 50 antiseptic wipes
  • 25 sleeping bags
  • 14,000 bottles of bottled water
  • 2,500 juices
  • 3,500 croissants
  • 2,500 snacks (breadsticks, nuts cookies, etc.)
  • 2,500 portions of food

From March 31 until today, they have made the following available to vulnerable groups:

  • 400 kit of sanitary material for injectable use
  • 100 disposable gloves
  • 100 protective masks
  • 50 antiseptic wipes
  • 15 sleeping bags
  • 3,500 meals (portions of food, toast, sandwiches, croissants, etc.)
  • 3,000 juices and water

 

I think we did a good job

Talas – Serbia based media portal “about politics, economy and ideas” published an article about effects of the coronavirus on people who use drugs in Serbia. The article is based on information published by DPNSEE and interviews with Milutin Milošević, our Executive Director, and Irena Molnar, the Executive Director of our member organisation Re Generacija.

Milutin emphasized that the civil society organisations from the region have done a good job before and during the first period of the outbreak. The result is that we haven’t noticed any infection among users of our services.

Irena emphasized that people who are on treatment are in an additional risk because they have to travel, sometimes daily, to get the treatment or social care.

The article, in Serbia, is available here>>>

Useful and fruitful Conference held

DPNSEE held today the on-line Conference on protection of vulnerable populations in South East Europe, with support of the Service for Combatting Drug Abuse at the Croatian Institute for Public Health and the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime – UNODC Programme Office in Serbia.

More than 60 representatives of civil society organisations, national drug agencies, international organisations and agencies and donor community participated.

We heard a lot of good stories about work done in the region on supporting vulnerable populations and several interesting ideas for actions to ensure that harm reduction services are sustainable during and after the COVID’19 epidemic.


DPNSEE prepared background documents for the Conference which are available at the recent news on our website>>>.

Here are updated documents, with some fresh information from countries, and the Minutes from the Conference.

  • Overview of the situation with coronavirus COVID-19 in SEE with two annexes (available here>>> with both annexes or here>>> as a separate document):
  • Annex 1 – Information received from countries of South East Europe during conference calls (available here>>>)
  • Annex 2 – DPNSEE activities during the coronavirus outbreak (available here>>>)

Minutes from the Conference are available here>>>.

Presentation from Mr Miloš Stojanović, Regional Project Manager at UNODC, Head of Programme Office in Serbia is available here>>>.

 

Shelter for homeless users opened in Athens

Source: Positive Voice

On the initiative of the Municipality of Athens and in collaboration with organisations OKANA and KETHEA a shelter for homeless users of psychoactive substances opened its doors in Athens on 22 April 2020. It is located at the premises of the Ionis Hotel at 41 Halkokondyli Street, in the centre of the city and aims to “embrace” vulnerable groups in order to protect them from the coronavirus pandemic.

The building will accommodate 70 people providing the possibility of hosting up to 140 people for up to 6 months.

Users will receive the following services on a 24-hour basis, with full respect for human rights:

  • Housing
  • Individual care and hygiene
  • Treatment programs
  • Nursing
  • Counselling
  • Psychosocial support and interconnection with health services
  • Legal assistance
  • Providence
  • Social and labour reintegration

New model of work in Zenica and Tuzla

Denis Dedajić, President of the Association Margina from Bosnia and Herzegovina sent us a short summary of the situation from March 1 to April 10.

Drawing on our life experiences we have had the opportunity to experience (the 4-year war, the floods of 2014), we can point out that we have very quickly adapted to the situation caused by the COVID 19 pandemic.

Our operations are compounded by the funding problems of our services that you are already aware of. Our organization is the only one that has survived the provision of harm reduction services in all of Bosnia and Herzegovina.

In accordance with the orders and recommendations of the Crisis Staff managing this health and social crisis, we had to close both Drop in centres (Zenica and Tuzla) and transferred all forces to the field.

A rapid mapping of the terrain was carried out and interviews with a large number of clients enabled a new methodology of work, all in line with the recommendations on the method of contacts between people. We currently cover all our clients in two regions, covering about 1 million people and about 1.800 of our clients, and with the great help of our clients we have identified in both regions 20 key points – persons to whom we deliver all the materials available to us.

The material is delivered on the basis of the stated needs of our clients. In the period from March 1st to April 10th we distributed in both regions 51.800 needles and syringes, 25.000 pieces of distilled water, alcohol wipes, containers for preparation of the mixture and 1.200 containers for disposal of infectious waste. It should be noted that during this period about 45.000 needles and syringes and other infectious material were collected and deposited in our drop in centres until this crisis passed.

We have established 4 sex workers supply lines and have distributed a lot of materials (over 500 hygiene packages) and unfortunately this is the only one they have received over the last three months.

The biggest win at the moment is the involvement and commitment of our clients throughout this work process.

In interviews with the inmates of the largest prison, we confirmed that they lack basic equipment such as mask gloves and disinfectants and the needs are quite high. The good situation is that all visits are suspended and there is very little opportunity for COVID to break into these facilities, although they need urgent help with these safeguards to improve the prevention system and reduce the possibility of infection.

 All of this work is done by 6 of our employees and we all do all the work and have very few resources at our disposal. The 6 of us have been volunteering for a long time and will work as long as we have materials to share with our clients.

If this model of work continues, our supplies are sufficient by the end of June. After that we will be forced to close after 18 years of conducting harm reduction services in Bosnia and Herzegovina because we will no longer be able to do so.

 

Duga active both locally and wider

Our member organisation Duga supports vulnerable populations in their municipality Šabac, but their outreach team is, as usual, active around Serbia.

During first days of the epidemic in Serbia, 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.

The extraordinary situation with coronavirus haven’t prevented Duga outreach team to continue HIV testing in cities around Serbia. On 9 April they have tested interested people in Kragujevac, Central Serbia, while the day after they went to Novi Sad in the Northern province of Vojvodina.

DPNSEE provided Duga with an amount of hygienic material, masks and food for vulnerable populations in their municipality. Duga also managed to get bread as donation from the organisation Human Heart of Šabac.

The Duga team, together with assistant of the Roma coordinator of the city of Šabac Sanja Petrović, distributed 122 humanitarian packages to 251 people in villages of Petlovača, Cerovac, MIšar, Letnjikovac, Pocerski Pričinović, Majur, Varna, Pocerski Metković, Bogosavac, Lipolist and the city of Šabac on 14 and 15 April.

DPNSEE Board discussed situation in the region

The meeting of the DPNSEE Board was held by Zoom on 13 April 2020. The meeting was scheduled to discuss the current situation related to outbreak of the coronavirus in South East Europe and plan future steps.

Based on the information collected at conference calls with member organisations, the Board concluded that it is time to make some conclusions and decisions about what we can do in the forthcoming period to help member organisations and ensure their sustainability after the current crisis caused by the coronavirus.

The Board also concluded that member organisations and the did a good job reacting in time, providing information to the communities, organising the work of our services in accordance with the situation and protecting our staff and, wherever possible, communicating with state officials and inviting them to protect vulnerable populations. Most of our users behave responsibly, even taking initiative and helping our organisations. The drug market is stable. The problems include lack of opportunity to start the treatment during the epidemic and lack of income to buy essential needs, bit also drugs. In most of the countries, we have problem to ensure enough protective material for our staff. In some countries, state institutions, especially drug agencies/offices, should provide more help to users for methadone distribution, protection of their rights, etc.

The Board decided to call an on-line conference on protection of vulnerable populations in South East Europe for Thursday 23 April. Besides our members and other civil society organisations from the region and wider, we shall invite to the conference national drug agencies and health institutions, international organisations partners and donors.

 

Greek organisations started street work with vulnerable groups

The Positive Voice announces the suspension of the operation of the prevention and examination centres “Checkpoint” in Athens and Thessaloniki, from 16 March 2020.

In the context of our contribution to the suspension of the spread of the pandemic, but also to the protection of the health of their visitors, volunteers and employees, the Association took all appropriate measures and has already stopped the operation of Red Umbrella Athens in Omonia and the examinations at the “Syn Athena” Home of the Municipality of Athens.

But, the same day, in the framework of the emergency plan for the care of homeless and psychoactive substance users, the Municipality of Athens held a meeting with organizations active in the field of prevention and harm reduction of vulnerable groups. The Association of HIV-positive people of Greece “Positive Voice”, the Association of Liver Patients “Prometheus“, OKANA, KETHEA, Praksis, STEPS and Doctors of the World were invited and attended.

The agreements that were unanimously accepted are oriented to the following actions:

  • Minimize the transmission of the virus to the vulnerable population, through continuous information, wide distribution of sanitary and pure injectable material and access to personal hygiene, nutrition and hospitality services.
  • Adoption of measures aimed at reducing the consequences of the transmission of the virus

Since then, the street work of the associations “Positive Voice” and “Prometheus” has been carrying out actions to support vulnerable groups through the provision of food, safe use synergies and protective equipment (such as gloves and condoms).

In particular, to date they have reached 434 people and have distributed more than:

  • 200 kit of sanitary material for injectable use
  • 2,882 condoms
  • 110 servings of food
  • 464 snacks (toast / sandwich / croissant)
  • 208 juices and water

The Anti-Narcotics Agency (OKANA) has contributed to this effort by distributing sanitary material, safe use synergies and information leaflets.

On Tuesday, April 7, 2020, the Association of HIV-positive people of Greece “Positive Voice” and the Association of Patients of Liver of Greece “Prometheus” were hosted on the ANT1 show “Special Report”.

Journalists conducted extensive research discussing the people who live on the streets and the organizations that implement their support programs. Following the appearance of the first case of COVID-19 in a homeless day centre in Piraeus, the show is investigating the safety net of vulnerable groups from the spread of the virus.

As part of the emergency plan of the Municipality of Athens for the care of homeless and users of psychoactive substances, the two associations have undertaken an extraordinary initiative through street work, in order to support vulnerable groups. Users of psychoactive substances, homeless people, sex workers, immigrants and refugees are the target groups of the initiative and their support is provided through the provision of safe use and protective materials (such as gloves, injectable material and condoms).

In his interview, the President of the Association “Prometheus”, George Kalamitsis, among other things, noted that things have not changed enough today. “What has changed is that some of our fellow citizens are more afraid. There is fear either for the pandemic, or because there are too many police in central Athens at the moment. The reasons are obvious, but they are scary. As for the hospitality structures and the supervision of the people who live in them, we need services that can be adapted to the needs of the people.

At the same time, Nikos Fitsialos, head of the street work team, added that “general attention needs to be paid to the people who are outside, especially now that citizens who are in solidarity are not circulating and will share a portion of food or a conversation. People lack communication. We notice that people want to talk to us, they ask us and they need it. Not necessarily to learn information about the coronary artery, but to have a human contact.

In the interview, the Municipality of Athens highlighted the need to minimize the transmission of the pandemic to vulnerable populations, through continuous information, wide distribution of medical supplies and access to personal hygiene, nutrition and hospitality services. In addition, Nikitas Kanakis from Doctors of the World added that “the homeless today are under the radar of epidemiological surveillance and are people who do not have the ability, not only to protect themselves but also do not have the right to individual responsibility.

The action of the street work team takes place three times a week, every Wednesday, Thursday and Friday and is implemented mainly in Omonia, Exarchia, Syggrou Avenue in Metaxourgeio and on Panepistimiou (Nomiki), Kavala, Iasonos, and Patision (ASOE) streets. . After careful consideration of the growing needs, it is necessary to expand working hours and days, something that will happen very soon.

Positive Voice also published advice for Greek citizens that have been stranded abroad and those that are not a Greek citizen and have been stranded in Greece on the procedure for accessing antiretroviral treatment.

For more information about activities in Greece, you can contact Positive Voice.

Services in Slovenia well organised

Drop-in centres in Slovenia have been closed by the decision of the Ministry of Labour, Family and Social Affairs since the beginning of the COVID-19 epidemic.

In Ljubljana, the Association for Harm Reduction Stigma continues to distribute sterile injecting equipment. The mobile outreach service (a van) continues to operate in the central part of Slovenia.

Injecting drug users have access to sterile injecting equipment but security measures are introduced: clients and staff have to keep 1.5 m distance from each other. All other information and counselling are available via telephone or online.

Drug testing, performed by Association Drogart, is open, but in smaller scale as before and with more safety measures.

OST is working, users get their take home medicine for a week, some even for two or three weeks. OST delivery was organised in a very good way since the first indications that the epidemic can hit Europe appeared.

One of the problems is closure of public transportation, which means that some persons cannot reach the OST clinics. For some of them, Association for harm reduction Stigma can deliver their methadone.

The greatest challenge is to support homeless people because they have nowhere to go (all daily care programs are closed, as well as public toilettes, due to safety reasons). There are negotiations with local authorities and ministries on how to deal with this situation.

Night shelters and safe houses for women are still open. However, it is very problematic because staff and clients have no safety masks. The use of disinfectants is mandatory.

The shelter in Ljubljana, run by the organisation Krali ulice, received new furniture. A special shelter for homeless people who may be infected with coronavirus is ready if this happens.