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.

27 May

SEE was mentioned quite a few times at the Roundtable “Responses to HIV and TB in times of COVID-19 – strengthening engagement with civil society and communities in Eastern Europe and Central Asia” organized by Developing Country NGO delegation of the Global Fund Board and the Global Fund Secretariat. Miloš Perić, Program Coordinator at the Association Duga from Serbia and Silvia Asandi, General Director of the Romanian Angel Appeal Foundation presented examples of good practice during the agenda point Maintaining and adapting HIV and TB responses.

24 May

The Institute for Public Health of Montenegro formally announced that there are no more people with COVID-19 in the country!

21 May

A coordination meeting on the Support. Don’t Punish campaign was held over Zoom. This year again, DPNSEE will coordinate the campaign in the region. It will also contribute to the efforts on ensuring sustainability of the services to people who use drugs which may be jeopardised due to coronavirus outbreak.

***

Just after our meeting, the “Countdown to the Global Day of Action” webinar was held, organised by the campaign organisers. aimed for us for discussions on community mobilisation ahead of the SDP Global Day of Action.

19 May

The Office for Combating Drugs of the Government of the Republic of Serbia obtained funds for protective material against coronavirus intended for vulnerable social groups. Representatives of the civil society organizations that are in direct contact with over 400 members of vulnerable categories received masks, gloves and disinfectants.

15 May

The Union of Organizations of Persons Living with HIV/AIDS in Serbia (USOP) published a very practical brochure on “What do people living with HIV need to know about the new Coronavirus called COVID-19?” with the support from the French Embassy in Serbia. The brochure is available in Serbian, English and French.

13 May

Association Margina re-opened their drop-in centres, in Tuzla and now in the new premises in Zenica, Bosnia Herzegovina. Users can enter only one at a time, obligatory with masks and gloves.

12 May

Starting May 15th (end of the state of emergency in Romania), ARAS will reopen its outreach activities and will open the drop in centre for 5 days a week (instead of 2, as it was during the emergency state). ARAS reached out to all public institutions with responsibilities in the medical/social fields: we offered out expertise, knowledge and human resources to support the fight against COVID19 in the vulnerable communities of Bucharest. Discussions have started with the Ministry of Internal Affairs and with the city hall of one sector of the City. They plan to distribute masks to all our beneficiaries in our services, if they manage to find the necessary funding for this.

11 May

The Prevent Association signed an agreement with the Ministry of Health of Serbia for implementation of the harm reduction program for 2020 and started working on 11 May. Field work was renewed and a drop in centre was opened.

8 May

Civica Mobilitas Macedonia awarded five organisations with grants for fighting coronavirus in the areas of marginalized communities, education, human rights and children, youth and students. Our member organisation HOPS is one of the granted organisations for their humanitarian action for people and children who use drugs, as well as sex workers and their families.

7 May

Alliance of Non Governmental Organisations for Drugs and Addictions in Slovenia is currently in preparation for a new questionnaire for their members about COVID-19 and supply for its next phase. The results are expected in the second part of May 2020.

6 May

Civil society organisations from North Macedonia extended a public protest for untimely and inappropriate behaviour of institutions in solving the problems of vulnerable and marginalized communities. Read the protest (in Macedonian) here>>>.

4 May

Drop-in centre of the organisation Juventas returns to regular working hours from today.

3 May

Promising news from the region!

For the first time after the outbreak in the country (4 March, almost two months ago), there were no new cases of coronavirus infection in Slovenia. A great and promising news>>>

There were no new cases in Montenegro for the last 4 days.

In the Tuzla canton, in Bosnia Herzegovina, there were no new case for 18 days. All those who have been infected are cured – the last one left hospital this morning.

2 May

Prometheus reports about the Streetwork Project and crowdfounding campaign they have launched to raise food, bottled water, juices, snacks, protective medical material (masks, gloves, antiseptics) and personal hygiene items for homeless people in Athens and Thessaloniki >>>.

30 April

Drop-in centre of the Association Terra, Croatia works according to the old working hours (from 10 am to 5 pm). All services are provided, but there is a limited number of people who can stay in the drop-in at the same time. Upon entry, users must disinfect their hands, shoes and wear a mask. We still distribute masks to users who do not have them. There has been a noticeable increase in the number of users since the introduction of public transport.

28 April

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

27 April

The civil society organisations from Croatia started operating all harm reduction activities from 27 April 2020, still respecting all protective measures (use of masks, gloves, limited number of the person inside the space, etc.).

HELP are using only oral rapid test for HIV and hepatitis. Blood testing is still not recommended.

26 April

Terra, Croatia, just announced that they extend their working times. From tomorrow, their drop-in centre will be open every working day from 10 to 17. Needle exchange is still possible through the window. Clients can use showers and laundry. They can also enter the centre but only if their hands and shoes are disinfected at entrance and they wear masks, one at the time, for their personal hygienic needs. Daily shelter and kitchen are still not available.

23 April

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.

22 April

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. Read more in the news here>>>.

***

The needle exchange programs in Bulgaria, which were closed on 16 March, re-opened in Sofia on 22 April.

21 April

Civil society organisations call the Government of North Macedonia to change their decision to drastically reduce financial support to the civil society. Read more in the news (in Macedonian) here>>>.

20 April

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.

Read about it in the news on our website here>>>.

16 April

The Belgrade Centre for Security Policy published a report on criminal activities in the Western Balkans during the COVID-19 outbreak – Crime in the Western Balkans during the coronavirus – early findings. The report was prepared by their researcher Saša Đorđević.

With information we received from our member organisations from around the region, DPNSEE provided significant contribution to the report section that deals with Narcotics, but also general comments and proposals for recommendations.

Read more in the news here>>>

15 April

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

The Duga team distributed 122 humanitarian packages to 251 people. Read more following this link>>>.

13 April

Greek organisations Positive Voice and Prometheus started street work to support vulnerable populations during the coronavirus outbreak. Read about it in the news on our webpage here>>>.

***

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. The news from the meeting are available here>>>.

11 April

An update on activities related to coronavirus in Slovenia is presented in our news following this link>>>.

***

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.

10 April

Timok Youth Centre from Serbia and DPNSEE continue translating and publishing UNODC documents in Serbian. Now this includes three infographics on COVID-19 – HIV prevention, treatment, care and support for people who use drugs:

Uloga zajednice (originally: The role of the communities, pdf 612KB)

Saveti za korisnike (Active tips to share with clients, pdf 632KB)

Saveti za pružaoce usluga (Advice for service providers, pdf 632KB)

***

DPNSEE concluded the round of video calls with member organisations, by countries, to discuss with them about:

  1. What is the coronavirus situation in your country regarding drug policy (especially how the officials treat our key populations)?
  2. What happens with the treatment of the key populations and which are their most important problems
  3. What is new with the drug supply and how the people who use drugs are dealing with it?
  4. How are your organisations dealing with the situations, your staff and their protection and other problems?

The information obtained will be used to plan future steps in responding to the coronavirus outbreak.

9 April

Aksion Plus published an information at their website on  Ensuring the continuity of service during pandemics! It includes information on What are the risks for people who use drugs (PWUD) during COVID-19 pandemics? and Preventive measures against COVID-19 transmission in environments frequented by PWUD

To download the text in Albanian, click here>>>.

***

Our newest member organisation Philanthropy, in collaboration with the City of Kragujevac, Serbia and the local Centre for Social Work, is opening the urgent shelter for socially vulnerable homeless people in Kragujevac. This service will enable protection of beneficiaries’ health well-being and prevent COVID-19 spreading.

DPNSEE managed to provide Philanthropy with an amount of hygienic material, masks and clothes for users of their centre.

8 April

DPNSEE had signed the “Protecting our co-workers during COVID-19: A Social Security Protocol for Civil Society” published by CIVICUS – a global alliance of civil society organisations and activists dedicated to strengthening citizen action and civil society throughout the world. Read about the Protocol here>>>.

***

Due to the current situation, Labyrinth‘s drop in centres on Kosovo in Prishtina, Gjilan and Prizren are now open on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays from 10:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m. All protective measures have been taken against the COVID-19 virus, including disinfection of the premises of their centres.

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>>>.

4 April

Organisation Institute from Pula, Croatia and company Neosalon Superius donated masks to Terra which will cover the needs of their clients.

3 April

Juventas strongly condemned the publication of the list with data on over 60 people suffering from COVID-19 and calls on the authorities to urgently find out how this serious incident occurred and stop similar human rights violations of Montenegrin citizens. Read their communique (in Montenegrin) here>>>.

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>>>.

30 March

The local users union PeersNups (Peer Network of Psychoactive Substances) translated into Greek and published INPUD’s brochure that provides advice on coronavirus people who use psychoactive substances.

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>>>.

12 March

DrogArt translated into Slovenian and published information and instructions for protection against coronavirus.

9 March

DPNSEE sent a new letter encouraging member organisations to continue their work and three leaflets we prepared that may be of use when working with key populations and staff:

  • Basic protective measures against the new coronavirus
  • Basic protective measures against the new coronavirus for drug users and
  • Basic protective measures against the new coronavirus for cannabis users

We offered support in translating and publishing the leaflets.

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

Last two days, the DPNSEE Board had on-line communications, including a few experts from inside the Network, on the threat of coronavirus outbreak in South East Europe following the first cases which appeared in neighbouring Italy. The first case of the virus were also reported in Croatia.

A Letter to member organisations inviting them to prepare for the coronavirus outbreak with brief instructions is being prepared and will be shared as soon as possible.

***

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.

Protective material for vulnerable groups

The Office for Combating Drugs of the Government of the Republic of Serbia obtained funds for protective material against coronavirus intended for vulnerable social groups.

Milan Pekić, the Director of the Office, handed out aid packages to representatives of civil society organizations that provide services for prevention, rehabilitation and resocialization of people with drug use disorder on 19 May. Taking into account the circumstances in which they find themselves, as well as the measures prescribed by the medical institutions, the representatives of these organizations received masks, gloves and disinfectants.

The Office for Combating Drugs, as a service of the Government of the Republic of Serbia, tried not to forget the members of endangered categories of citizens in this serious situation caused by the coronavirus pandemic. They must not remain on the margins of the society in this situations. In accordance with the recommendations of the Government of the Republic of Serbia, we have tried to provide the necessary assistance to those who need it the most, and these are certainly vulnerable groups in the society, including people with drug use disorder. The material was provided to civil society organizations that are in direct contact with over 400 members of vulnerable categories” said the Director of the Office.

Global Fund support for fighting COVID-19

The Global Fund, the largest multilateral funder of health systems worldwide, is providing immediate funding of up to US$1 billion to help countries fight COVID-19, mitigate the impacts on lifesaving HIV, TB and malaria programs, and prevent fragile health systems from being overwhelmed, through grant flexibilities and the COVID-19 Response Mechanism.

 

Grant flexibilities, announced on 4 March 2020, allow countries with current grants to: 1) use up to 5% of their current grant value if there are savings, and/or 2) reprogram up to 5% of the value of a grant to meet immediate COVID-19 response requirements. Repurposing equipment already purchased through a Global Fund grant is also an option to respond to COVID-19.

Total available funding for flexibilities is up to US$500 million. As of 5 May 2020, funding has been approved for 73 countries and five regional grants for a total of US$109 million. Among them Albania got US$80,400 of support, Kosovo EUR 91,733 and Romania EUR 316,255. This information is updated regularly through the Situation Reports on the Global Fund website. Eligibility: Countries and multi-country grants with current grants from the 2017-2019 allocation period.

Application process: For the use of savings and reprogramming, the Principal Recipient issues a request to the Global Fund’s Fund Portfolio Manager. Preferably, it is endorsed by the CCM. The Global Fund responds within five working days.

The request should include a brief budget, describe the activities to be funded, how it will fit into the national response, and outline potential consequences to and mitigants for HIV, TB and malaria programming.

Implementation: Global Fund financed activities must be implemented by an existing Principal Recipient (and/or existing Sub-Recipients). The main investment categories are (a) protecting Global Fund disease program against negative impact of COVID, (b) direct responses against COVID, and (c) address immediate gaps in health and community support systems. Guidance on eligible activities is available on the Global Fund’s website.

Funding Source: Countries can use savings or reprogram current grants, up to 10% of the grant value.

More information is available here>>>.

 

The COVID-19 Response Mechanism (C19RM), approved in April 2020, authorizes US$500 million in funding in addition to grant flexibilities. C19RM can be used across the three diseases and the health system, even if a country only has a single Global Fund grant for one component. The CCM will assess the most urgent needs and direct activities through one or more of the principal recipients.

Total available funding: USD$500 million, initially. Public and private donors are able to direct additional resources to the Global Fund through C19RM to scale up the COVID-19 response and support systems for health across the grant portfolio.

Eligibility: Countries with a Global Fund allocation for the 2020-2022 period can access an amount equivalent to up to 10% of their allocation. This ceiling includes the use of savings and reprogramming under existing grants.

The immediate additional amount of funds available for each country is 3.25% of the 2020-2022 allocation period, provided the country has not yet used savings and reprogramming exceeding 6.75% of this allocation.  Application Process: The application is submitted through the CCM or the regional coordinating mechanism preferably by 31 May and no later than September 2020 so that emergency funding can reach countries as soon as possible.

The funding request is divided into two parts:

  • Priority 1 for the most urgent activities. This is capped at 3.25% of the 2020-2022 country allocation. The Global Fund will respond within 10 days to this request.
  • Priority 2 for supplementary interventions. This is capped at 10% of the 2020-2022 country allocation minus the amounts already requested for C19RM Priority 1 and approved grant flexibilities/reprogramming. These supplementary requests could be awarded later if more funds are made available.
  • All applications should demonstrate that an inclusive engagement with civil society and key affected populations took place to formulate the demand. C19RM funds are additional and will not be deducted from the 2020-2022 allocation. Funding must be fully utilized by June 2021.

Instructions to apply can be found here>>>.

Implementation: C19RM funds must be implemented through an existing country grant and principal recipient, regional and multi-country grants. It can be used for three areas, to:

  1. Mitigate the impact of COVID-19 on current HIV, TB and malaria programs.
  2. Reinforce the national COVID-19 response
  3. Invest in urgent improvements in health and community systems

 

Impact of COVID-19 on drug services

EMCDDA press release

In a new study published today Impact of COVID-19 on drug services and help-seeking in Europe the EMCDDA reports signs of a drop in the availability of drug services during the pandemic and in the numbers of those seeking help. But the study also provides insight into how services have adapted and innovated during the fast-changing crisis in ways that could be carried forward into the future.

The report is the first in a series of briefings resulting from an EMCDDA ‘trendspotter’ study, launched in April to explore the impact of COVID-19 on the drug situation and responses to it. The agency’s trendspotter methodology explores emerging drug-related trends by rapidly collecting and triangulating data from a variety of sources to allow for timely assessments of topics of concern. Due to national emergency restrictions, the method was adapted to suit online investigation and the study designed to be carried out in successive waves (1). The findings released today stem from the first wave of the investigation which focused on drug services.

Results highlight that COVID-19 and national lockdowns have led to reduced availability and provision of treatment and harm-reduction services in most European countries. Emerging evidence suggests that, like other healthcare providers, drug services are facing a range of challenges including: staffing shortages; access to personal protective equipment; and managing infected clients and staff vulnerability to infection.

Preliminary findings from the study show that drug services are adapting and innovating during COVID-19, with similar characteristics reported across Europe. With face-to-face counselling curtailed during containment, telemedicine by phone or video has been embraced as an alternative across European drug services. Providers of opioid substitution treatment (OST) have also acted rapidly to change the way in which they provide medication (e.g. mobile OST) and respond to new treatment demands (e.g. new induction procedures), while most countries have relaxed regulations on take-home OST for stable patients (e.g. prescribing for larger quantities or longer periods).

Harm-reduction services have also been swift to adapt, playing a key role in providing frontline support during the crisis. This includes: increasing outreach work and needle- and syringe-exchange activities; providing shelter management for homeless and marginalised groups; maintaining drug consumption room services (in situ or mobile) and moving some interventions online (e.g. drug checking).

The briefing presents a snapshot of how the demand for specialised treatment evolved between January 2020 and March 2020, providing a first insight on the impact of COVID-19 on help-seeking behaviour. Data show that there was some drop in demand for treatment services during this period for reasons including closure or restricted access to treatment centres and clients’ inability to reach centres due to confinement measures. But this was partially compensated by remote technology and modified interventions.

When questioned on the ‘new normal’ for drug services in Europe post-COVID-19, many of the experts surveyed were in favour of maintaining some of the service changes rapidly introduced in recent months. The use of telemedicine was the most cited example, being seen as a useful complement to face-to-face services in the future. Coordination between public, private and non-governmental actors during the crisis was also welcomed by respondents and seen as particularly beneficial for services users.

As confinement procedures are eased, drug services will be expected to maintain a broad range of health protection measures, adapt their routines and reinforce contingency planning in case of a second wave. Negative economic forecasts for national economies raise particular concerns over potential budget cuts for drug services and greater marginalisation of certain social groups. Nevertheless, many survey respondents remained hopeful that the innovation and collaboration seen in recent months would remain positive features of drug services in Europe in the foreseeable future.

To read the study follow this link>>>

COVID-19 and drug markets

UNODC press release

Measures implemented by governments to curb the COVID-19 pandemic have led to drug trafficking routes by air being disrupted, along with drastic reduction or increased interdiction in trafficking routes over land. Some drug supply chains have been interrupted and traffickers are looking for alternative routes, including maritime routes, depending on the types of drugs smuggled. These are some of the findings from a report on drug market trends during COVID-19, launched on 7 May by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC).

Synthetic drugs, such as methamphetamine tend to be trafficked across continents by air more than other types of drugs. Restrictions on air travel are, therefore, likely to have a particularly drastic effect on this illegal cargo. The bulk of cocaine is trafficked by sea and large cargos have continued to be detected in European ports during the pandemic.

So far, heroin has mostly been trafficked by land. But due to the pandemic, maritime routes seem to be increasingly used now to traffic heroin as shown by seizures of opiates in the Indian Ocean.

Trafficking in cannabis, however, may not be affected in the same way as that of heroin or cocaine, given that its production often takes place near consumer markets and traffickers are thus less reliant on long, transregional shipments of large quantities of the drug.

 

Drug consumption trends

Several countries have reported drug shortages at the retail level. This can lead to an overall decrease in consumption, but mainly of drugs mostly consumed in recreational settings.

In the case of heroin, however, a shortage in supply can lead to the consumption of harmful, domestically produced substances – heroin shortages have been reported by countries in Europe, South West Asia and North America and some countries in Europe have warned that heroin users may even switch to fentanyl and its derivatives.

An increase in the use of pharmaceutical products such as benzodiazepines has also been reported, already doubling their price in certain areas. Another harmful pattern resulting from drug shortages is the increase in injecting drug use and the sharing of injecting equipment. All of which carry the risk of spreading diseases like HIV/AIDS, hepatitis C, and COVID-19 itself. The risk of drug overdose may also increase among those injecting drugs and who are infected with COVID-19.

 

Trends in drug production

Restrictions resulting from lockdown could hinder the production of opiates with the key months of harvest in Afghanistan being March to June. Due to COVID-19 labour force might not be able or willing to travel to areas where opium poppy is grown in the country, which could affect this year’s harvest.

Cocaine production also appears to be impeded in Colombia, as producers are suffering from a shortage of gasoline. While in Bolivia, COVID-19 is limiting the ability of state authorities to control coca bush cultivation, which could lead to an increase in coca production. In Peru, however, a drop in the price of cocaine suggests a reduction in trafficking opportunities. This may discourage coca bush cultivation in the short-term, although the looming economic crisis may lead more farmers to take up coca cultivation in all the major cocaine producing countries.

A decline in international trade in the current pandemic could also lead to shortages in the supply of precursors, vital for the manufacture of heroin as well as for synthetic drugs. A limited supply in Mexico, for example seems to have disrupted the manufacture of methamphetamine and fentanyl, while in Lebanon and Syria it is affecting the production of captagon. Czechia on the other hand expects a shortage of metamphetamine for the same reasons.

In the long-run, the economic downturn caused by the COVID-19 pandemic has the potential to lead to a lasting and profound transformation of the drug markets, which can be fully understood only after more research is done. The economic difficulties caused by COVID-19 may affect people who are already in position of socioeconomic disadvantage harder than others.

The COVID-19 and drug markets Report is available online here >>>

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

 

The COVID-19 Conference

In recognition of the urgent need to analyse research, review policy and exchange frontline experiences related to the COVID-19 pandemic, the International AIDS Society (IAS) will host a special one-day COVID-19 Conference with breaking COVID-19 research, policy analysis and frontline experience. The virtual COVID-19 Conference will feature a free-of-charge, stand-alone programme of plenary, invited-speaker and abstract-driven sessions.

The conference will take place on 10 – 11 July 2020, concluding AIDS 2020: Virtual. Delegates already registered for AIDS 2020: Virtual are automatically registered to attend the COVID-19 Conference.

COVID-19 abstract submissions, including exploratory studies, are now open until Monday 25 May 2020. Abstracts for the special one-day COVID-19 Conference will be considered in one or more of five tracks.

Abstracts for the special one-day COVID-19 Conference will be considered in one of the following tracks:

  • Track A: Basic science, pathogenesis, virology, immunology, inflammation
  • Track B: Clinical science, testing (RT-PCR and serologic) and diagnoses, natural history, clinical care, ARDS care, therapeutics
  • Track C: Epidemiology, transmission dynamics, prevention, vaccines
  • Track D: Public health responses including physical distancing and community level efforts, programmes, policies, lifting restrictions, modelling
  • Track E: Social, economic, political, human rights impacts of the pandemic and the response Register today and submit your COVID-19 abstract to the world’s first abstract-led conference on COVID-19 as we come together to advance the response to the COVID-19 pandemic. More information on the COVID-19 Conference can be found here.

For more information, visit this link>>>

 

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