Protest for drastic budget cut for HIV prevention program

Three civil society organisations from North Macedonia, our member HOPS (Healthy Options Project Skopje), Stronger together (Association for Support of People Living with HIV) and HERA (Health Education and Research Association) protested today because of the budget cuts for HIV prevention program.

Here are some extracts from their statement:

By cutting the budget for HIV prevention by 40%, the Ministry of Health puts the health of at least 10,000 affected citizens at stack. In a scandalous and flat way, without any expert discussion, the Ministry of Health cut as much as 40% of the funds provided for HIV prevention in the Program for protection of the population from HIV-infection for 2022, which the Government adopted only a month ago. Thus, the state puts at risk the closure of the established capacities for control of HIV infection in the country and endangers the health of at least 10,000 citizens from the marginalized communities.

Instead of the envisaged 46.5 million denars in the Program for protection of the population from HIV infection intended for HIV prevention services implemented by about 14 associations in 12 cities in the country, the Ministry of Health yesterday announced a public call for associations with an amount reduced by even 19 million denars. The decision was not consulted by the National Commission on HIV.

 Thanks to these programs, the Republic of Northern Macedonia in the past 15 years has maintained full control of the HIV epidemic in populations of people injecting drugs and sex workers and one of the lowest infection rates in the region. In the past 3 months, the entire national response to this epidemic is literally at the expense of 14 civil society organizations, which continue to work without any compensation for their work.

 Discontinuation of services for vulnerable groups will mean an increase in new infections and an increase in deaths due to HIV, and on the other hand increased pressure on key health institutions, such as the Infectious Diseases Clinic and addiction treatment centers. Even a small increase in the HIV epidemic will lead to a multiplier increase in the cost of treatment and health care. Hence, the decision to arbitrarily cut is simply a bad public health policy.

 In Macedonia, young people are still dying from HIV, and according to the methodology of the European Center for Disease Control, it is estimated that even one third (34%) of the total number of people living with HIV in the country are not aware that they have the virus. With this, Macedonia lags significantly behind the world average, which for 2020 was only 16%. The global goal by 2025 is to reduce the percentage of people who are not aware that they have HIV to less than 5%, which will lead to a drastic decline in the transmission of infection and will allow to put an end to the HIV epidemic by 2030.

 Given the alarming situation and citing the country’s commitments under the United Nations Policy Declaration on HIV and AIDS of June 2021, including the obligation to end the HIV epidemic, as well as the commitments made by the Government to ensure the continuity of HIV programs, we require:

  • Urgently correct the announced public call for associations that will implement the activities for HIV prevention in accordance with the amounts provided in the Program for protection of the population from HIV-infection for 2022, adopted by the Government in February this year;
  • The Government and the Parliament should finally guarantee the continuity of the already established system for protection against HIV. This means: The Assembly to adopt without delay and in full the amendments to the Law on Health Care which are in parliamentary procedure, and refer to the mechanism of involvement of associations in the implementation of health programs, and the Ministry of Health to develop bylaws that will fulfilled the obligations from the conclusions adopted by the Government in September 2017 and the obligations from the previous and current Government Strategy for cooperation and development of the civil society sector;
  • Due to the long delay in announcing the public call, the Government and the Ministry of Health through intervention support to reimburse the costs of the associations for the first quarter of 2022 incurred due to their dedicated maintenance of the national response to HIV.

 

Safe Party project

Our member organisation Re Generation hosted today the Round table on the occasion of the #BezbedanParty (SafeParty) project.

During the Round Table, the results of four months of this project were presented. Within the event, proposals for the amendments of local and national Action Plans were presented in order to increase the safety of young people in nightlife, created by the joint work of NGOs Re Generation and experts, based on data obtained through community research.

Every day we encounter various situations in the night life, in which young people who go out to nightclubs and attend festivals can potentially be exposed to dangers related to the use of psychoactive substances (drugs and alcohol), but also other health, social and legal risks. This is partly because the public is not familiar with harm reduction programs, and an honest and fact-based conversation about drugs remains taboo.

A pocket guide to safer clubbing

That is why the goal of this project was to initiate a dialogue on risk issues in the night life, and encourage and introduce the community to harm reduction programs in Belgrade, and educate those who work and those who work to survive clubbing more safely.

Activities of the project included:

  • Training for peer educators intended for young people who go out to nightclubs and visit festivals, but also to DJs, owners, managers, promoters and other figures in the clubbing industry. Upon completion of the training, participants will be introduced to harm reduction programs when consuming psychoactive substances.
  • Promotion of educational materials related to harm reduction programs, safer nightlife practices, as well as the distribution of party packs
  • Discussion with the competent authorities in order to amend the relevant National Strategies and Action Plans
  • The #SafeParty campaign, which will not only invite the target group to action, but will also be able to contribute, keep up to date with events, changes and news, but also to get involved in the advocacy action itself.

 

 

The #BezbedanParty project was implemented as part of the “Explore – Empower” public advocacy support program funded by the UK Government and implemented by the Trag Foundation. The implementation of this project was strategically supported by the Office for Combating Drugs of the Government of the Republic of Serbia.

To get more information about the project (in Serbian), follow this link>>>.

 

Support to Ukrainian refugees in Romania

The wave of refugees fleeing Ukraine after the start of the war came also to neighbouring Romania. So far, 500.000 of them entered Romania – most of them transiting to other destinations, while 50.000 stayed in the country.

Our member organisation ARAS from Romania immediately got organised to provide them help and continues to be with those who were forced to leave their families, homes and friends because of the war in Ukraine!

The ARAS apartment became a house, for a week, for 4 people: three women and a 9-year-old girl, followed another 4 ariving later. Company MODELiER provides a hot meal to the refugees accommodated by ARAS.

The ARAS team facilitated access to ARV treatment in Bucharest for a woman living with HIV from Ukraine. This was possible due to a joint effort of ARAS and the National Institute of Infectious Diseases “Prof. Dr. Matei Balş”, which responded promptly to the request, so that treatment is not interrupted. It was the first situation of this kind; ARAS are sure, unfortunately, that it is not the last. In 2020, according to UNAIDS estimates, 250.000 people were living with HIV in Ukraine.

In order to continue offering these services, ARAS invited for donations. The information about this is available on the ARAS website (https://arasnet.ro/donatie-paypal/) or directly in the bank accounts available at the image below with the mention UKRAINE.

A new daily centre

Our member organisation Healthy Options Project Skopje (HOPS) from North Macedonia opened the new Daily Centre for Rehabilitation and Resocialization of Drug Users and Their Families. The centre is located at a new location – 16 Kosta Kirkov Street in the city centre of the capitol Skopje.

The working hours of the centre are from 10 to 15 h. The centre continues to provide services: psychiatrist, psychologist and pedagogue. Depending on the needs of clients, all other services of the organization are also available – support from a social worker, lawyer, etc.

In partnership and with financial support from the City of Skopje, Department of Social, Child and Health Protection, HOPS, opened the Daily Centre back in September 2012.

 

Should sex work be regulated in Serbia?

President od “Prevent” Nebojša Đurasović (also DPNSEE President) was invited by the Nova S TV station to the discussion about legalisation of sex work in Serbia. Other guests in the TV show “Between Us” were Andrijana Radojčić Nedeljković from the non-governmental organization Atina and Blažo Marković, president of the Union of Police and Police Officers.

Nebojša promoted the approach that as the first step it would be important to decriminalise sex work. That would allow those involved to get health and other kinds of protection.

The discussion, in Serbian, is available following this link>>>.

Consultancy Services to Develop a Monitoring and Evaluation System

Our colleagues from Labyrinth opened a request for proposals for Consultancy Services to Develop a Monitoring and Evaluation System. The call is part of the project Response to Social Protection Challenges of the Marginalized communities Led by Innovation, Education and Functionality (RELIEF), supported by the European Union, represented by the European Union Office in Kosovo.

Purpose of the service is to develop a Monitoring and Evaluation System for the EU Funded project REsponse to social protection challenges of the marginalized communities Led by Innovation, Education and Functionality – RELIEF. The main purpose of the service is to develop the M&E plan that will accompany the project Action Plan together with the project Log Frame to facilitate the effective monitoring of the programme.

The closing date of the Call is 02 November 2021. For More infomation, please visit the Labyrinth’s webpage following this link>>>.

 

DPNSEE appeal to the governments in countries of the region

On the occasion of 26th June, the United Nations’ International Day against Drug Abuse and Illicit Trafficking, as part of the Support Don’t Punish campaign’s ‘Global Day of Action’, the Drug Policy Network South East Europe and its member organisations appeal to the governments in countries of the region to ensure that people who use drugs are safe from discrimination and enjoy care which is needed.

It is time to leave behind harmful politics, ideology and prejudice and to prioritise health and human rights over incarceration and futile efforts to achieve a ‘drug-free world. It is time to support, and not punish people who use drugs and other non-violent drug offenders.

To read the Appeal, follow this link>>>.

 

Support. Don’t Punish activities in 2021

Support. Don’t Punish is a global grassroots-centred initiative in support of harm reduction and drug policies that prioritise public health and human rights. The campaign seeks to put harm reduction on the political agenda by strengthening the mobilisation capacity of affected communities and their allies, opening dialogue with policy makers, and raising awareness among the media and the public.

The Drug Policy Network South East Europe coordinates activities of the campaign in South East Europe around the Global Day of Action 26 June – which is also the United Nations’ International Day against Drug Abuse and Illicit Trafficking.

In 2021, we shall participate in activities of the #DrugDecrim month to contribute to fighting stigmatisation and criminalisation of people that use drugs.

The campaign 2021 shall have in South East Europe:

  • 8 countries
  • 14+ cities
  • 12 organisations
  • 50+ activities
  • 25 accounts on social networks

Activities have already started in some of the countries of the region.

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic which is still hitting the region and the world, DPNSEE will not organise the traditional kick-off event in 2021.

The DPNSEE Board decided to issue a public appeal on harm reduction crisis, following a very critical situation in which are harm reduction services in several countries of South East Europe.

To find out what is planned in your city or country, follow this link>>>.

Information about the global campaign is available from the website http://supportdontpunish.org.

 

ARAS alarms on harm reduction crisis in Romania

ARAS – The Romanian Anti-AIDS Association sent an appeal to stakeholders in Romania to join forces in finding solution for the harm reduction crisis which hardly hits this country. Here is the translation of the appeal.

 

ARAS – The Romanian Anti-AIDS Association invites on this occasion to 21 days of action “Support, Don’t Punish”, in which we will contact the decision-makers at central and local level, the executive and legislative bodies, and we will initiate a public dialogue around this topic.

 We are inviting all stakeholders to take a position on the issues raised, to open the communication for solutions and to find support in initiating concrete actions to remedy this situation, which has become chronic.

 For a better explanation of the context and history of the chronic lack of national / local funding in risk prevention and harm reduction services, we send you, below, some relevant information and we are at your disposal for any further questions.

 In the last 20+ years, ARAS has provided harm reduction services for intravenous drug users in Bucharest, based on the recommendations of UNAIDS and WHO and within the limits of available funds. During all this time, we drew the attention of public institutions that, in order for these services to be constant and efficient, they must be supported by policies in the field and funding from the state budget, both at the central and local level.

 At present, ARAS implements harm reduction activities (testing and counselling, referral and support, social assistance), but does not have the funds necessary to provide prevention materials for injecting drug users (sterile syringes) and to cover the real need in the field. The pandemic caused by Covid-19 also strongly affected our area of intervention, especially access to testing, which decreased dramatically, as well as access to treatment and medical services. At the Titan Community Centre (opened by ARAS in 2008) we can no longer carry out harm reduction services, such as offering 1 ml syringes (which cannot be found in pharmacies either), because of lack of funds.

 Therefore, injecting drug users in Bucharest reuse syringes or share them with other users. The result is that HIV infection and viral hepatitis are already spreading, affecting again this category of vulnerable people and hence the community as a whole.

 We remind that the national authorities (Ministry of Health, National Anti-Drug Agency) have always relied on the support of external funding contracted directly by non-governmental organizations and which practically ceased to exist in 2020; still, the responsibility for the health of the citizens is with these institutions, and not with the NGOs.

 We are also stressing that many of the programs supported by public funds are exclusively for people who have an identity card, and some only for those who have health insurance. When public institutions have funded services implemented by NGOs, the contracts contained some limitations that make them completely inappropriate for working with vulnerable people. Moreover, local authorities do not include or budget in their strategies (clearly and explicitly) activities to prevent HIV and HBV and HCV infections, tuberculosis, dedicated to vulnerable people.

 Another important drawback: the National AIDS Plan drafted within a project funded by the Global Fund for AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria has been waiting to be approved by the responsible institutions since 2017 (!!).

 ARAS has drawn attention numerous times on these crises and on the optimization of access to services, and we even went to court (together with three intravenous drug users) against the Directorate of Public Health, which is supposed to give syringes for harm reduction. We lost our case and at present we are preparing our file for the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR).

 Romania is part of the global network International Drug Policy Consortium that promotes the objective and open debate on drug policies, and Bucharest is a signatory of the Fast Track cities initiative. The National Anti-Drug Strategy includes the principles of the European Union Strategy on Drugs. Still, the reality proves the contrary.

 On this occasion, we would like to open a dialogue on the need to update these national policies and strategies in order to align with international initiatives in this field, to secure the necessary budget for harm reduction and for prevention in general, and thus to promote the “support, don’t punish” approaches, both in the official documents and in the field.

 

Regional meeting “Children who use drugs”

The regional meeting on “Children Who Use Drugs“, organised on 28 April by the Healthy Options Project Skopje (HOPS), was dedicated to exchanging experiences and sharing good practices in the region related to the problems and challenges faced by countries and civil society organizations in working with children and young people who use drugs, such as the availability of health and social programs for young people and children who use drugs.

Presentations on the topic had Liljana Ignjatova, Ph.D., Professor at the Faculty of Medicine in Skopje, Department of Psychiatry, and Head of the Centre for Prevention and Treatment of Drug Addiction, the Republic of Northern Macedonia, Eranda Berisha from Centre for Social Work Pristina, Kosovo*, Skerdi Zahaj, consultant in “Initiative for Social Change” ARSIS from Albania, Marija Mijović social worker at the NGO Juventas from Montenegro and Denis Dedajić from NGO Margina from Bosnia Herzegovina.

From the presentations of all speakers, it can be concluded that the rate of children and young people using drugs and other psychoactive substances is increasing. Health and other relevant institutions do not have an adequate answer to this question. In all countries in the region there is a complete lack of appropriate treatment programs for children who use drugs.

Recommendations from the meeting include:

  • Use good practices from countries where there are programs to treat and care for children and young people who use drugs
  • Prepare and adopt appropriate programs for the treatment of children and young people who use drugs
  • Strengthen partnerships between CSOs and health and social institutions in policymaking and provision of services for children using drugs

The project “The Role of CSOs in the Western Balkans in Providing Social Services and Preventing Social Exclusion” is funded by SIDA – Swedish International Development Agency, through the Balkan Civil Society Development Network.

The project is implemented regionally in six Western Balkan countries, including ARSIS Youth Support Social Organization (Albania), Asocijacija Margina (Bosnia and Herzegovina), HOPS (Northern Macedonia), Qendra Labyrinth (Kosovo), Prevent (Serbia), NVO Juventas (Montenegro).