Emergency situation concerning the sustainability of harm reduction services in Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Bulgaria and Romania

The three regional networks: Correlation – European Harm Reduction Network, Eurasian Harm reduction Network and Drug Policy Network South East Europe were informed by our members organisations about the situation with sustainability of  harm reduction services in Bosnia Herzegovina which is characterised by lack of strategy, policy and funding caused by the delay in establishing national Government for more than a year after the elections, withdrawal of international donors and misunderstandings and low level of cooperation between the governmental institutions and civil society, but also inside the civil society sector providing harm reduction services. The national Strategy for prevention and control of HIV and AIDS has ended (2016) and the Transition plan, developed by the Country Coordinating Mechanism during implementation of The Global Fund funded programme has not been implemented. As a result, the harm reduction services are closed in Sarajevo, Mostar, Bihać and Banja Luka and exist only in Zenica and Tuzla relaying on voluntary work of unpaid Staff and with all supplies already on minimum.

The three Networks expressed our deep concern about the situation and willingness to give contribution to finding solution and ensuring both quick response to the urgent needs and building a sustainable solution. We are ready to provide non-partisan support in identification and advocacy for the best possible approaches to urgently start provision of services to the populations of people who use drugs, sex workers and prisoners and other affected populations and to properly advocate for the sustainability of governmental funding.

The urgent action we are taking is to explore opportunities for emergency bridging funding to ensure survival of existing harm reduction services in the country. The situation is alarming and requires direct action and mobilisation of the international community. The three network have limited resources, so we are now contacting some of our partners and donors, explaining the situation and calling for immediate and urgent support. This could include short-term funding and technical support to ensure a minimum of harm reduction services. So far, we have a promise from the Open Society Foundations for a small grant which would cover basic need for the month of November.

We plan to develop and implement a comprehensive process to achieve sustainable long-term solutions. The activities for long-term solutions target local governments and policy-makers with the aim to ensure sustainable funding for harm reduction services. We already offered our expertise and support in this process, In addition, we would like to engage and involve other relevant stakeholders, such as donors and funders.

As the first concrete long term action we decide to send an appeal to the Global Fund to review their eligibility model of supporting middle income countries, besides Bosnia Herzegovina also Albania, Bulgaria and Romania.

In advance of the upcoming 42nd meeting of the Board of the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria (the Global Fund) as well as the Global Fund Regional Meeting for Eastern Europe and Central Asia to take place in Istanbul on 26-27 November, 2019, we – civil society and community organisations and networks working in the Eastern Europe and Central Asia (EECA) region for the benefit of key affected populations, including people who use drugs – would like to express our profound concern as to the current lack of sustainable harm reduction services in the South East European countries of Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Bulgaria and Romania, respectively. Taking into consideration the successful results of the recent Sixth Replenishment Conference, we would like to invite the Global Fund to safeguard a part of the catalytic investment funds available for the 2020-2022, including multi-country grants, matching funds and strategic initiatives, in order to sustain life-saving services for people who inject drugs and other vulnerable groups and to incentivise domestic investment in harm reduction in each of these post-transition countries.

41 civil society organisations from Easter Europe and Central Asia supported the letter. We hope that the Global Fund shall understand the situation and support our proposal.

The letter to the Global Fund is available following this link>>>

 

Regional cooperation for the development of civil societies and open dialogue

Drug Policy Network South East Europe organizes the conference Regional cooperation for the development of civil societies and open dialogue on Monday 10 and Tuesday 11 December 2018, in The  Palace of Serbia, Belgrade, Serbia. The Conference is supported by the Central European Initiative, from their CEI Cooperation Activities programme and the Office of combating drugs of the Government of Serbia.

The first day of the Conference will be dedicated to the DPNSEE General Assembly. The member organisations will discuss operational and financial report for 2018 and plans for the next year, candidatures for new members and elect the Board. A strategic workshop will help establishing priorities, aims, objectives and activities to achieve them in the next three years.

The thematic RECODOD Conference will be also held in The Palace of Serbia, Belgrade, Serbia, on the second working day. The aim of the conference is to bring together member organisations and other civil society organisations, policy makers and researchers active in the drugs field in South East Europe, in order to discuss drug policy developments and trends, exchange experiences and best practices in the region.

The agenda of the Conference will focus on drug policy developments and trends and exchanging experiences and best practices in the region on:

  • Drugs and immigrants
  • Legislation and procedures in cases of arrest and judiciary process for drug users
  • Accreditation of services by national health institutions

Participation of other peer organisations, governments, experts and keynote speakers from countries of South East Europe and wider is expected.

 

The South East Europe pre-Conference Meeting held in Bucharest

With the support from the Open Society Foundations, the Drug Policy Network South East Europe organised the South East Europe Meeting on 20 November in Bucharest, Romania, prior to the 4th European Harm Reduction Conference. The event aimed to get together activists working on harm reduction services, exchange experiences and promising ideas for the future, meet with international partners and discuss future opportunities for collaboration. 36 representatives of harm reduction organisations and institutions from countries of the region and from various international organisations attended this meeting: Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Greece, Kosovo*, Macedonia, Montenegro, Romania, Serbia and Slovenia.

Nebojša Đurasović, Vice-President of the DPNSEE Board opened the Meeting with welcome note and agenda review and announced first session Where is South East Europe now? Sofia Galinaki from Diogenis, the member of the IDPC Members’ Advisory Council, moderated this session. She presented the results of the Harm Reduction Survey. Dragoş Roşca, Romanian Harm Reduction Network, continued this session and spoke about current situation in Romania, Denis Dadajić, from Margina, explained situation in Bosnia and Herzegovina and Silvana Naumova from HOPS, presented current situation in Macedonia.

Facilitating the second session What do we actually do?, DPNSEE Executive Director Milutin Milošević, reminded on some dilemmas, including those of quality in the times of transition and integrated services for all vs. those specific for key sub-populations. Ivica Cekovski from HOPS spoke about the concept of quality in Macedonia. The session continued with Dr Vera Kerleta-Tuzović, Agency for Healthcare Quality and Accreditation in FBiH who presented accreditation of drop-in centres Bosnia and Herzegovina and session was closed with Tomaž Koren, from Alliance of NGOs for Drugs and Addictions, from Slovenia, who talked about quality of services in Slovenia, with special view on harm reduction in nightlife and festival settings.

The pre-conference meeting continued with third session that was moderated by Jelena Čolaković, from the DPNSEE member organisation Juventas, Montenegro. The speakers crossed over specific topic Where do we go from here? and was centred around opportunities for collaboration, including a regional program on sustainability supported by the Global Fund. Vladan Golubovic, from Chairman sent a presentation about the Regional Coordinating Mechanism. Tetyana Deshko, from Alliance for Public Health presented upcoming Global Fund supported regional project “Sustainability of services for key populations in Eastern Europe and Central Asia region”. Then, Mišo Pejković from Cazas spoke about experiences in cooperation in the region. The session was closed by Amarildo Fecanji, from ERA, who talked about potential cooperation between the networks and organisations.

At the last session What else we need to talk about? Ganna Dovbakh from Eurasian Harm Reduction Association emphasized potentials for advocacy in the process of EU Enlargement on national level.

Closing the Meeting, Nebojša Đurasović thanked all for contributing to the Meeting which he found successful. He noted a very friendly and open atmosphere and hoped that the experiences and ideas presented will be a good basis for future cooperation and partnerships.

Photos: Snežana Šundić – Vardić and Sanja Đurasović

Situation in Romania full of challenges

Delegation of the Drug Policy Network South East Europe with Nebojša Đurasović, Vice-President, Denis Dedajić, Secretary of the Board, and Milutin Milošević, Executive Director, visited Romania on 19 November 2018. It was one of the two remaining in the serial of visits aimed to present DPNSEE to the society, build strong relationships with the authorities, institutions and services and explore opportunities for partnerships.

The situation in the country is far from good with no harm reduction services available outside Bucharest, no support for MSM services and no HIV strategy and strategic plan (a proposed document is in the Ministry of Health for one year but not approved). Opioid Substitution Therapy funding is a nightmare (procedurally), therefore hospitals do not want to engage in that, and Harm Reduction is in a survival mode. State institutions and civil society organisations have different data on key populations, with number of drug users ranging from 9.000 to 19.000.

At the meeting with Sorin Oprea, Director of the Agency for Combating Drugs, in a friendly atmosphere created through recent contacts, we discussed about the potential to raise drug policy higher on political agenda during the Romanian presidency over EU starting in January. We were informed about forthcoming purchase of 900.000 syringes for harm reduction services, the data collecting system that operates well in Romania and will be offered to Turkey, a 3 Million Euro programme that is planned for civil society organisations and plans to develop a system of alternative sanctions. Our interest in protection of personal data of drug users was replied with assurance that the problem was solved and that anonymity is guaranteed. The optimistic situation presented by the Agency was questioned by our civil society colleagues during the next meetings.

Discussion with our colleague Dragoş Roşca, director of the Romanian Harm Reduction Network, presented a bit different and challenging situation in the country. Among others, Dragoş gave us a good insight in functioning of country coordinating mechanism after departure of Global Fund. RHRN mainly functions as a watchdog for state institutions. He informed us that out of 15.500 people living with HIV, 14.000 are on treatment.

Dan Popescu from our member organisation ARAS took us to two methadone centres where they serve almost 500 people. The most vulnerable 100 of them get the service for free, while other can choose to pay 3 Euro for a daily service or 120 Euro for monthly package. We instantly commented that the country should provide the services for free – otherwise people’s basic right for health is not respected! In the centre situated in a large hospital, 11 committed activists work from 7:00 AM to 6:00 PM, supported by a doctor, nurse and social worker. This service operates for 12 years already.

We also had an opportunity to see one of two their outreach team and their van which cruises the streets of Bucharest and provides service on the spot.

The visit was really good opportunity to learn about a variety of issues related to drug policy in this complex and segmented country.

A tool presenting the situation in South East Europe

The Drug Policy Network South East Europe published the document  Addressing the acute funding crisis facing harm reduction services in South-East Europe with the aim to emphasize the acute funding crisis facing harm reduction services in Balkan states and South-East Europe, to influence the policies and actions of the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria  and other donors. It is a complementary part of a larger body of work being done by a wide range of partners – including the Open Society Foundation and the International Drug Policy Consortium – to document the consequences of changes in donor eligibility policies, and to urgently try and influence donor policy away from a withdrawal from middle-income countries in South East Europe.

DPNSEE worked with their partners and members across the region to gather case studies of Opioid Substitution Therapy stock-outs or shortages, service closures or reductions in coverage, and other critical issues experienced by civil society partners in South East Europe related to transitions away from Global Fund support. Through interviews with key stakeholders and desk-based research, DPNSEE gathered information, experiences, feedback and recommendations from Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Croatia, Kosovo*, Macedonia, Montenegro, Romania and Serbia.

The material was collected in November – December 2017. Since then, it was used only internally. The document was published and shared with the participants of the South East Europe pre-Conference meeting, held in November 2018 in Bucharest, Romania.

Click here to download the document >>>

The 4th European Harm Reduction Conference in Bucharest

The 4th European Harm Reduction Conference, called for 21 to 23 November 2018 in Bucharest, Romania is organised by the Correlation Network in cooperation with Romanian partners and different European Networks and partners, such as Infodrug Switzerland, the European Network of People Who Use Drugs, the Eurasian Harm Reduction Association and the European Joint Action HA-REACT.

The conference will present the latest harm reduction research results, innovative and next best-thing practices, discuss drug policy including the need to scale up harm reduction services and provide an appropriate platform to create a link between national and European developments in drug policies and harm reduction.

The European Harm Reduction Conference is aimed at professionals that work in the areas of harm reduction, treatment, prevention, medicine, research, law enforcement and politics and, finally but importantly, drug user and community organisations.

With the support from the Open Society Foundations, the Drug Policy Network South East Europe will coordinate participation of South East Europe in the 4th European Harm Reduction Conference. Specific objectives of this project include:

 

  • Improve and extend partnerships in South East Europe
  • Provide organizational and logistic support to SEE representatives at the Conference
  • Organize a SEE side-event before EuroHRC
  • Support linking of the SEE participants with various networks, EU agencies etc.
  • Envisage and agree on models of long term co-operation in the region

The pre-conference South East Europe meeting will be held on 20 November. Aim of the event is to get together, exchange experiences and promising ideas for the future, meet with international partners and discuss future opportunities for collaboration. So far, 36 representatives of harm reduction organisations and institutions from all countries of the region and from various international organisations applied for the event.

More about the Conference is available at the website following this link>>>

Memory Recollection, Time for Action

Since 2001 31st September has been marked around the World as the International Overdose Awareness Day in order to raise public awareness of the most risky outcome of the use of psychoactive substances and gave the meaning to deceased overdoses. Serbia was on the world map of countries that marked this day in 2017 under the slogan “Memory Recollection, Time for Action”.

Overdoses with the deadly outcome due to the use of drugs, alcohol and uncontrolled use of medicines are on the rise, especially among young people. Drug users, one of the most marginalized groups in our society, do not have to be condemned to death by overdosing.

In the city of Pančevo, organisation Nova+ organised street action, to join the world network of cities where this day is marked by burning candles for the deceased and sharing information and educational materials regarding prevention of overdose and also to raise awareness of this problem in the society.

Street action in Pančevo

The marking of the day continued in with the open talk in the Apollo Hall, where professionals were discussing the problematizing this this issue in relation to Serbia through an open talk. Invited speakers were Nenad Živković writer and journalist, moderator, Osmah Hamzagić representing the Public Health Institute Pančevo, Aleksandar Žugić from NGO Izlazak, Irena Molnar in the name of the Drug Policy Network South East Europe and host Branislav Princip from Nova+ organisation.

Conclusion of almost two hours of talk was as expected: society has a problem with overdoses – Serbia is not excluded. The first step in preventing overdose has to be raising awareness of the issue and recognising it as a public health problem that has social consequences. Recognition of symptoms, proper treatment in this case and the latest pharmacological preparations for the prevention of fatal outcome, which are recommended around the world, should become common practice in Serbia too.

Open talk in the Apollo Hall

Annual Drug Policy Conference

The Annual Regional Conference in South East Europe was organised in Thessaloniki from 8 to 10 June 2017. The conference aimed to bring together NGOs, policy makers and researchers active in the drugs field in the region of South East Europe, in order to discuss drug policy developments and trends, exchange experiences and best practices in the region, Europe and the United Nations.

The conference is part of the regional project “Strengthening NGO capacity and promoting public health and human rights oriented drug policy in South East Europe”, supported financially by the European Commission and the Open Society Foundations. The organiser was Diogenis, Drug Policy Dialogue.

National drug coordinators from Romania and Croatia

The Conference agenda included a large number of interesting issues:

  • The Sustainable Development Goals 2030 and drug policy. Priority issues, the role of UN agencies, expected commitments from the member states and role of NGOs. Presenter was Jo Dedeyne-Amann, Chief Secretariat to the Governing Bodies, Division for Treaty Affairs, UNODC. Nikos Stergiou, Communication and public relations Officer, Diogenis, presented experience of two local meetings.
  • Initiatives undertaken in the countries of our region related to implementation of the outcomes of the UNGASS and the role of NGOs. National drug coordinators presented work in their countries: drug co-ordinators: Sorin Oprea (Romania), Milan Pekić (Serbia), Željko Petković (Croatia) and Manina Terzidou, head of the Greek Monitoring Centre for Drugs (EKTEPN) (Greece)
  • Women and Drugs. Facts and Special Characteristics for Girls and Women who use drugs was the presentation from Meni Malliori, Professor of Psychiatry at the University of Athens, while Georgia Aslanidou, Psychologist, OKANA Thessaloniki presented about Addicted mothers and the journey of therapy
  • Drugs and internet: experiences, opportunities and concerns in the use of online counselling tools presented by Ilias Paraskevopoulos, Consultant for addictions at KETHEA ITHAKI
  • The Harm reduction project in South East Europe. Developments and next steps presented by Sofia Galinaki, Advocacy Officer, Diogenis and Peers’ involvement in harm reduction, with introduction from Christos Anastasiou, Peer Network of Users of Psychoactive Substances (PENUPS).
  • Irena Molnar and Bojan Arsenijević from the NGO Re Generation, Serbia provided valuable insight into Changing culture in drug use including new psychoactive substances
  • Developments in the discussion about cannabis policy in countries of SEE
Irena Molnar presenting about Changing culture in drug use including new psychoactive substances

Representatives from 14 DPNSEE member organisations, 3 Board members and all 5 Staff were at the Conference. We presented the Network, strategic priorities and plans for the future. Our two volunteers talked about their work on the Glossary and Resource Pool.

Marios Atzemis, DPNSEE Board member, making an intervention

The Conference was a very good opportunity to share and learn about interesting ideas and make plans for the future.