On the initiative from civil society organisations, following the DPNSEE Public appeal to protect vulnerable groups from coronavirus COVID-19, a meeting was called by the Office for Combating Drugs of the Government of Republic of Serbia to discuss the measures to protect people who use drugs and other connected vulnerable groups. The meeting was held on 13 March with representatives of the Office, Ministry of Health, Special Hospital for Addictions and four civil society organisations.
All participants agreed that vulnerable groups need to be supported for their personal and protection of the entire society. Conclusions include
By noon on Monday 16 all service providers will send estimations of their needs for materials they need to protect the key populations they serve and their staff. The Office for Combating Drugs will collect them and send a joint request to the Ministry of social affairs. Once they are provided, they will be distributed to the organisations.
The Office will also request for an information about the needs of the shelters for children, young people and elderly and try to organise support to them.
Funds for the additional support will be requested from the project supported by the Global Fund and Ministry of Health, at least for the staff supporting the key affected populations.
Civil society organisations are preparing specific instructions for people who use drugs and other vulnerable populations and share them both through social networks and printed materials.
The Alliance for Public Health engaged a group of experts to perform a brief assessment of the latest experiences in the Serbia on financing civil society organisations with national funds, including the Global Fund national grant, and to plan on the national level for the sustainability strategy and concrete steps.
The experts visited Serbia from 16 to 20 December and held a serial of meetings with the Ministry of Health, Ministry of Youth and Sports, Health Insurance Fund, CSOs and other stakeholders. At the last day of the mission, the concluding stakeholder consultation with presentation of preliminary findings was conducted.
The visit was organized by DPNSEE member organization Timočki omladinski centar, who is the national lead of the multi-country project implemented by the consortium led by the Alliance. Representatives of DPNSEE and our other member organisations Prevent and Duga also contributed at the meetings.
EHRA representatives had an opportunity to meet with representatives of the national coordinator organisationsMargina, Juventas and Prevent and get to know better their achievements and challenges while implementing the project. It was also interesting to discuss lessons learnt, possible next steps and follow up actions. All three indicated that the main issue they faced was lack of information or very slow response to provide them by the authorities. Understanding this obstacle, an agreement was made that DPNSEE and partner organisations will propose to extend the project by September 2019.
Our guests presented us the EHRA activities in the scope of the Global Fund HIV multi-country project, content of the workshop on human rights issues for the Balkan region planned for autumn this year and the Global Fund Community, Rights and Gender Technical Assistance Program. For this occasion, we also invited our colleagues from Serbian partner and member organisations Duga, GAJP, Timok Youth Centre and Čovekoljublje.
For our guests, we also arranged meetings with Dr Jasmina Tanasić, Head of the Department for Social Affairs at the Standing Conference of Towns and Municipalities and Primarius Dr Danijela Simić, Head of Department for HIV infection, STI, viral hepatitis and tuberculosis, Centre for Prevention and Control of Diseases, at the Institute of Public Health of Serbia “Dr Milan Jovanović Batut”.
The visit will help to better document the approach, process and results of our project as well as the lessons learnt. Documenting this our joint experience as a regional best practice and example of small grants to NGOs in recently transitioned of transitioning countries to support their sustainability and transition related advocacy activities can be of benefit to the Sustainability Bridge Funding that is about to be created by a group of international donors led by the OSF.
The National Committee for fighting HIV/AIDS and Tuberculosis, which performs the role of the Country Coordinating Mechanism in Serbia, adopted today the documents which will be submitted to the Global Fund to fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria. The project is expected to run from July 2019 to June 2022.
Back in 2016, the Global Fund allocated €1,098,351 for HIV and building resilient and sustainable systems for health. The allocation have been determined primarily based on disease burden and income level. Serbia is classified as an upper-middle-income country. Serbia committed to encourage additional domestic investment of 25%. The first amount agreed during the application in already included in the national budget for 2019.
The project seeks to scale-up HIV testing services for all key affected populations (KPs), preventive programs for men who have sex with men and sex workers and needles and syringes program (NSP) and other preventive programs for people who inject drugs. In addition, the project seeks to maintain and extend support provided by organizations of people living with HIV to people on antiretroviral treatment. The project will fund services provided by civil society organisations and will contribute to community system strengthening. In order to reach the maximum impact the majority of prevention and support interventions will be implemented at least in the two regions (Belgrade and Vojvodina) in which majority of KPs are concentrated based on surveillance data..
The civil society organisations, including DPNSEE and our three member organisations from Serbia Prevent, Duga and Timok Youth Centre, actively participated in creating the new national HIV strategy, in the work of the National Committee and the Working group for negotiations with the Global Fund.
The training included general information and practical steps in the advocacy and monitoring process. In addition, Dr Jasmina Tanasić from the Standing Conference of Cities and Municipalities presented the Budget programming model used in the country.
A one-year budget support plan for harm reduction program in Serbia was prepared. According to the plan, in the forthcoming period an analysis of the budget of the Republic of Serbia (Ministry of Health, alcohol and tobacco excise, income from games of chance and opportunity) will be carried out and 4 projects by 4 organizations on the following topics:
Analysis of open calls of the Ministry of Health
Political parties and harm reduction
Promotion of the project and results in the public
The Office for combating drugs of the Government of Serbia signed on 10 January 2018 Memorandum of Understanding with 11 civil society organisations from Serbia, confirming the importance of civil society organizations and the need for their active involvement in the implementation of drug policy and promoting a new concept of cooperation between state bodies and civil society organizations. Civil society organizations now have the opportunity to join together with state authorities in establishing a broad social platform needed for creating an effective, global standards based and comprehensive drug policy.
The Memorandum was designed in partnership with the Office for Cooperation with Civil Society of Government of Serbia and civil society organisations. Organisations were invited to apply through a public call.
Drug Policy Network South East Europe was one of 11 organisations with whom the Memorandum of Understanding was signed: Nova Plus, Izlazak, Re Generation, Prevent, Duga, Timočki omladinski centar, Jazas Pozarevac, as well as from Novi Sad, Kokoro and Zemlja živih.
The Acting director of the Office for combating drugs of the Government of Serbia Milan Pekić underlined that civil society organisations are significantly contributing to implementation of the Strategy for combating drugs. He also stressed that CSOs have direct access to people using drugs. They have an important role in implementing plans and organising activities, from prevention to treatment and harm reduction.
Civil society representatives emphasized that cooperation with the Office for combating drugs is a huge step forward, significant recognition of their work and an opportunity for working together.
The Working Group of the Ministry of Health of Serbia proposed changes to the Law on Psychoactive Controlled Substances. This law has long been announced, as part of the obligations that Serbia has in the process of accession to the European Union, specifically covered by Chapter 24 of the negotiations. The draft is disappointing and restricting instead of proposing active and modern solutions. The public debate was badly prepared and led, with not proper timely information and draft being publicly shared after the debate started.
DPNSEE and its member organisations, together with a few other interested civil society organisations, communicated, met and prepared a comprehensive set of comments that were sent to the Ministry. We also held a press conference and were guests on three TV stations and national radio, and the news about the proposals we made was also in other electronic and social media. The cooperation with partner organisations was very fruitful, and can be a good basis for future partnerships and actions.