Conference on protection of vulnerable populations in South East Europe

Spread of the coronavirus and illness officially known as COVID-19 around the world, in Europe and in the region of South East Europe has a devastating effect on general population as well as on people who use drugs and other connected vulnerable populations (homeless people, sex workers, LGBTI, MSM, people living with HIV and many others).

DPNSEE reacted early on the information about possible outbreak of the coronavirus in Europe sending a Letter to member organisations inviting them to prepare for the coronavirus outbreak with brief instructions, publishing the Public appeal to protect vulnerable groups from coronavirus COVID-19, sharing and translating instructions and advice on coronavirus and keeping contacts with our member organisations and international partners. We regularly update news from South East Europe – they are available at the News section of our website.

We held conference calls with our member organisations by countries from South East Europe last weeks. We heard a lot of good stories about their work and ideas to share.

Analysing the situation and discussing potential developments during and after the outbreak, the DPNSEE Board decided to hold the on-line Conference on protection of vulnerable populations in South East Europe. The Conference will be held 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.

The aim of the Conference is to contribute to ensuring the sustainability of services for key populations during and after the coronavirus epidemic. As stated in the UNODC document Suggestions about treatment, care and rehabilitation of people with drug use disorder in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic “it is important to ensure the continuity of adequate access to health and social services for people who use drugs and with drug use disorders and provide the continuum of care required as described in the International Standards for the Treatment of Drug Use Disorders (UNODC/WHO, 2020) to the best extent possible also in times of crisis”.

Besides our members and other civil society organisations from the region and wider, we invite to the Conference national drug agencies and health institutions, international organisations partners and donors.

The Conference will be held via Zoom at the following link https://us02web.zoom.us/j/86072202401 on Thursday 23 April 2020 starting at 14:00 CET (15:00 EEST). The conference would last for a maximum of two hours.

The Agenda will include two items:

  1. Overview of situation with coronavirus among vulnerable populations in South East Europe.
  2. Proposed actions to ensure sustainability of services for key populations during and after the coronavirus epidemic.

The background documents for the Conference we plan to prepare and post here in the next few days include:

  • 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>>>)
  • Draft list of actions and measures to ensure sustainability of services for key populations during and after the coronavirus epidemic (in progress).

In preparations for the Conference, we shall also use and refer to the documents which are also produced and promoted internationally, including those from UNODC, UNAIDS, EMCDDA and other national and international intergovernmental and civil society organisations.

We sincerely hope that you shall join us in this effort to make sure that a truly inclusive universal health coverage grounded on rights-based laws, policies and procedures is achieved by prioritizing and protecting vulnerable groups.

 

Instructions on coronavirus in Serbian

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.

The instructions are printed in 500 – 2.000 copies to share to the key populations.

These instructions will be available in various institutions and civil society organisations in Serbia. We expect that they will be adjusted to local languages in some other countries of South East Europe.

General harm reduction tips for people who use drugs
General prevention measures against coronavirus COVID-19
Instructions for people who take drugs snorting
Instructions for people who use cannabis
Instructions for people who go clubbing
Instructions for sex workers

Together against coronavirus

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.

 

Ready for COVID-19?

In December 2019, a novel coronavirus (2019-nCoV) was first isolated from three patients with pneumonia, connected to the cluster of acute respiratory illness cases from Wuhan, China. Coronaviruses are zoonotic, meaning they are transmitted between animals and people. More about the virus is available in the video bellow.

According to the latest epidemiological data on 25 February, the total number of COVID-19 cases has reached 80,407 globally, and 2,708 people have died from the virus, which puts the mortality rate at nearly 3.4%. This is an emerging, rapidly evolving situation with ongoing outbreak investigations. More about the virus is available at the World Health Organisation webpage following this link>>> and at the webpage of the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control.

Outbreak of the epidemic in Italy, neighbouring country to our region, saw 322 cases in a very short period of time, with 11 deaths, while cities of Cremona and Brescia turned into quarantine. First cases were also reported in Croatia, Romania, North Macedonia and Greece and also in Austria. It is pretty realistic that they will appear in other South East European countries.

In the exchange which the DPNSEE Board had, we expressed concern that the health systems may not have fully in their sight the key populations we are supporting (and people with substance use disorder, especially heroin users, are usually in a weak health conditions), that these populations, being side-lined in the community, may not be well informed about the threat and measures they should take to protect themselves and that our organisations, especially those who provide services to people who use drugs and other connected vulnerable groups should also play they role in overall efforts to fight the problems caused by this epidemic.

DPNSEE invited its member organisations to act locally but also to act together, share experiences, actions and results they achieve.

We see our role in three dimensions:

  1. While the coronavirus is still a threat, you may participate in calming the situation and avoiding panic which may occur, inform people you are supporting about the protective measures against the coronavirus and make all necessary steps internally to be prepared for possible dark scenarios.
  2. If COVID-19 cases appear in your country, you may intensify communication and advising the key populations, activate full spectrum of protection measures for your staff and establish close cooperation with authorities, especially national and local public health authority to advice on necessary steps.
  3. If you find yourself locked in a quarantine area, please fully respect all necessary advices and make sure that your people are safe, but also offer services other than your ordinary actions to support overall efforts of overcoming the critical situation.

DPNSEE invites authorities to pay specific attention to vulnerable populations, which may remain invisible in situations when major efforts are needed for an effective respond to the crisis.

The corona virus COVID-19 is a serious treat, but not more dangerous than usual influence we face every winter. With good preparations and respecting necessary prevention measures, its effects may be reduced and minimised. DPNSEE wants to ensure that people we serve, our staff and societies in general are prepared to fight this challenge.

To read the letter that DPNSEE sent to its member organisations follow this link>>>

World Health Organisation released first guideline on digital health interventions

The World Health Organisation (WHO) released new recommendations on 10 ways that countries can use digital health technology, accessible via mobile phones, tablets and computers, to improve people’s health and essential services.

Over the past two years, WHO systematically reviewed evidence on digital technologies and consulted with experts from around the world to produce recommendations on some key ways such tools may be used for maximum impact on health systems and people’s health.

One digital intervention already having positive effects in some areas is sending reminders to pregnant women to attend antenatal care appointments and having children return for vaccinations. Other digital approaches reviewed include decision-support tools to guide health workers as they provide care; and enabling individuals and health workers to communicate and consult on health issues from across different locations.

The guideline emphasizes the importance of reaching vulnerable populations, and ensuring that digital health does not endanger them in any way.

The guideline demonstrates that health systems need to respond to the increased visibility and availability of information. People also must be assured that their own data is safe and that they are not being put at risk because they have accessed information on sensitive health topics, such as sexual and reproductive health issues.

The guidelines also makes recommendations about telemedicine, which allows people living in remote locations to obtain health services by using mobile phones, web portals, or other digital tools. WHO points out that this is a valuable complement to face-to-face-interactions, but it cannot replace them entirely. It is also important that consultations are conducted by qualified health workers and that the privacy of individuals’ health information is maintained.

This guideline represents the first of many explorations into the use of digital technologies and has only covered a fraction of the many aspects of digital health.

In 2018, governments unanimously adopted a World Health Assembly resolution calling on WHO to develop a global strategy on digital health to support national efforts to achieve universal health coverage. That strategy is scheduled to be considered at the World Health Assembly in 2020.

To support governments in monitoring and coordination of digital investments in their country, WHO has developed the Digital Health Atlas, an online global repository where implementers can register their digital health activities.

To get more information follow this link>>>