Continuous shrinking of the civic space for several years

The Balkan Civil Society Development Network (BCSDN) reacted to the DG NEAR Consultations on the first regional call of the IPA Civil Society Facility (CSF) and Media Programme 2021-2023, published on 4 January 2022 on the TACSO website on behalf of the DG NEAR.

In times of declining freedoms, growing constraints to civil society operations in the enlargement countries, and continuous shrinking of the civic space for several years, confirmed by the most influential reports on the state of democracy, as well as the EC reports themselves, the highest priority of the regional call should have been supporting CSOs in protecting civic space and countering back democratic relapse.

BCSDN emphasizes that the EU should put a stronger focus on core and long-term support for CSOs rather than short-term project support. Instead of engaging costly international consultancies or intermediaries, the EU would support the work of CSOs grounded in knowledge of the local needs and challenges, committed to the long-term positive development of their societies.

The EU should show better recognition and consideration of the needs, positions and – even more so – the value of CSOs in the region, and start setting an example to the Western Balkan governments on what enabling meaningful participation of CSOs means.

In November 2021, the BCSDN issued the Non-Paper on the IPA III CSF and Media Programme 2021-2023. Several regional network, including DPNSEE, supported the non-paper.

The BCSDN reaction is available following this link>>>.

 

COVID-19 vaccinations for prison populations and staff

People in prison continue to be left behind in COVID-19 responses despite facing heightened risk of infection and illness due to cramped and unsanitary living conditions and lack of hygiene supplies in many detention facilities, as well as the poorer health status of prison populations compared to the general population. Even in countries with relatively high standards for places of detention, people detained and working in prisons have been infected and died of COVID-19. The latest available figures indicate that as of July 2021, over 575,000 cases have been recorded in prisons and over 4,000 people in prison have died in 47 countries due to COVID-19.

Penal Reform International (PRI) and Harm Reduction International (HRI) carried out the first ever global mapping of policies & practices related to COVID-19 vaccination in prisons across 177 countries.

This report presents the findings of global mapping of COVID-19 national vaccination plans and their roll-out in prisons. It provides analysis on how, and to what extent, prisons are included (and prioritised) in national vaccination plans, and documents the progress to-date in rolling out the vaccine in prisons. In doing so, this report sheds light on a critical aspect of COVID-19 responses in prisons, namely vaccinations, which are an important tool for ensuring that people deprived of liberty – who too often remain invisible to society and at risk of infection or in need of medical care – are not forgotten.

The report is available following this link>>>.

 

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.

 

A long-acting injectable pre-exposure prophylaxis for HIV prevention approved

The United States Food and Drug Administration announced its first approval of a long-acting HIV prevention medication on 20 December 2021. The long-acting injectable cabotegravir (CAB – LA) is approved as a pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) for adults and adolescents who are at risk of acquiring HIV sexually in the United States of America. Apretude is given first as two initiation injections administered one month apart, and then every two months thereafter. Patients can either start their treatment with Apretude or take oral cabotegravir (Vocabria) for four weeks to assess how well they tolerate the drug.

This is the first time an injectable antiretroviral drug becomes available as a pre-exposure prophylaxis for prevention of HIV. The long-acting formula is a step forward and a valuable addition to the HIV prevention toolbox and will make acceptance and adherence easy.

Companies holding new technologies should share their knowledge and recipes with generic producers to ensure availability and affordability in low and middle-income countries. UNAIDS called for this new drug to quickly be made available and affordable to people who need it most not just in the United States of America but everywhere in the world. The mistakes of three decades ago when lifesaving drugs were only available to those who could afford it must not be repeated. Market strategies such as generic competition and public health-oriented management of intellectual property rights, either through voluntary agreements or the use of TRIPS flexibilities must be used to make this new drug widely available.

To make this drug available equitably across the world, a series of actions are essential. Firstly, the drug has to be approved by regional and national regulatory authorities in a speedy manner. It is encouraging to see that the developer of CAB-LA, has already submitted to the South African Health Products Regulatory Authority (SAHPRA) for approval and an outcome is expected in early 2022. However access must go much further. Secondly the selling price must come down through a combination of measures such as licencing and involvement of generic producers. Thirdly, national HIV prevention programmes must prepare roll out plans and prepare their health systems and communitiues to deploy this new HIV prevention option as soon as they are available.

Current pre-exposure prohylaxis – Tenofovir plus Emtricitabine – tablets have to be taken daily as oral PrEP. They are highly effective in preventing HIV acquisition among persons at substantial risk when taken as prescribed. However many find it challenging to take a daily tablet. Another option – dapiviringe vaginal ring – is becoming available as additional prevention option for women at substantial risk of HIV infection.

The CAB-LA option could be a game-changer for the HIV response, making PrEP simpler or less burdensome for all genders. This may also circumvent the stigma associated with daily oral therapy and improve correct dosing and adherence which is critical for PrEP effectiveness.

Drug Decriminalisation [e]Course

The International Dug Policy Consortium (IDPC) in partnership with Mainline, Health[e]Foundation and Frontline AIDS designed the Drug Decriminalisation [e]Course to support and equip partners from around the world to advocate for the decriminalisation of drug use and personal possession.

The Course includes seven modules:

  1. Introduction, definitions and support for decriminalisation (Available in English and French)
  2. Existing models of decriminalisation (Available in English and French)
  3. Making the case for decriminalisation (Available in English and French)
  4. Designing decriminalisation – part 1: selecting the model of decriminalisation (Available in English)
  5. Designing decriminalisation – part 2: defining drug possession for personal use (Forthcoming)
  6. Designing decriminalisation – part 3: sanctions and intrusiveness (Forthcoming)
  7. The ‘gold standard’ for decriminalisation (Forthcoming)

Ahead of the December break, I share the good news that Module 4 was presented. It is the first of three modules delving into the complex and important challenge of designing decriminalisation models, addressing key issues such as the model’s normative basis and key decision-makers.

This e-course was designed to strengthen our movement’s capacity to advance effective and full decriminalisation and is entirely free.

To register and access the course click here>>>.

 

Malta approves legalisation of cannabis for personal use

The Parliament of Malta approved the legalisation of cannabis and its cultivation for personal use on 14 December 2021 with 36 votes in favour and 27 against. Malta is the first country in the European Union to make that move.

Equality Minister, Owen Bonnici, said the “historic” move would stop small-time cannabis users from facing the criminal justice system, and would “curb drug trafficking by making sure that users now have a safe and regularised way from where they can obtain cannabis”.

Possession of up to seven grams of the drug will be legal for those aged 18 and above. It will permissible to grow up to four cannabis plants at home, with up to 50g of the dried product storable.

Possession of up to 28 grams will lead to a fine of €50-€100 but with no criminal record. Those under the age of 18 who are found in possession will go before a commission for justice for the recommendation of a care plan rather than face arrest. Those who consume cannabis in front of a child face fines of between €300 and €500.

It will be legal for non-profit cannabis clubs to cultivate the drug for distribution among their members, similar to organisations tolerated in Spain and the Netherlands. Club membership will be limited to 500 people and only up to 7 grams a day may be distributed to each person, with a maximum of 50 grams a month. The organisations, which cannot be situated less than 250 metres from a school, a club or a youth centre, may also distribute up to 20 seeds of the plant cannabis to each member every month.

Traineeship available at the EMCDDA

The European Drug Agency (EMCDDA) has 8 traineeship positions available to work with them next year. This is the opportunity to gain valuable work experience in one of the areas of the EMCDDA’s work.

Traineeship is available in 8 different areas of the agency’s work:

The deadline for applications is 10 January 2022.

The Call for traineeship is available following this link>>>.

 

On International Human Rights Day, UN drugs body silences UN human rights expert on ground-breaking report

From the IDPC and Harm Reduction International press release

In an unprecedented, last-minute decision, the lead UN drugs body has blocked the presentation of a report from a group of independent human rights experts that calls out governments for serious human rights abuses committed in the war on drugs.

The UN’s lead drug policy-making body has slammed the door on human rights expert Dr Elina Steinerte, Chair of the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention, who was due to present a watershed study on how drug control policies drive an epidemic of arbitrary detention across the world. She has been blocked from addressing the UN Commission on Narcotic Drugs today, 10th December, which is coincidentally International Human Rights Day, and her statement has been merely published online. This last-minute decision, which led to a contentious exchange during the session, was reached through an opaque, closed-door process that kept the human rights experts in the dark about their exclusion until today.

The report sheds light on the arrest and incarceration of millions of people around the world for drug-related offences, including for drug use. People who use drugs are also routinely held against their will in so-called ‘rehab centres’, where they are often subject to degrading and inhumane treatment, including forced labour. With today’s decision, the Commission on Narcotic Drugs stands in defiance of the Human Rights Council – the main UN human rights body – which had asked human rights experts to produce the very same report that now has been stonewalled.

The move to block the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention’s presentation is particularly galling, given that it is happening on International Human Rights Day 2021, held under the themes of equality and non-discrimination. From stop and search practices to mass incarceration or the death penalty, evidence shows that repressive drug policies disproportionately target oppressed and marginalised people across the world, including racialised groups, Indigenous people, people living in poverty, women, and  LGBTQI+ people.

A report on the global qualitative study

The International Network of People who Use Drugs (INPUD) has collaborated with the World Health Organization (WHO) Department for Global HIV, Hepatitis and STI Programmes on a global qualitative study examining the values and preferences of key populations, including people who inject drugs, for HIV, Hepatitis and STIs services. The findings of this study will inform the update of the WHO 2016 Consolidated Guidelines for HIV prevention, diagnosis, treatment and care for key populations. These Guidelines will be used to inform countries on the design and implementation of health packages for key populations, making it extremely important that they take into account the specific values and preferences of each key population included in the study (people who inject drugs, gay and bisexual men and other men who have sex with men, female, male and trans sex workers and trans people).

Across the globe, people who inject drugs continue to be at increased risk of HIV, viral hepatitis (HCV, viral hepatitis B (HBV) and tuberculosis (TB). In order to reduce HIV, HCV and HBV transmissions along with overdose deaths, a comprehensive package of harm reduction interventions must be made available to people who inject drugs. Although such interventions are considered by the WHO and other UN agencies as essential to achieve global targets, access to harm reduction is still limited or non-existent in many countries, with less than 1% of people who inject drugs having sufficient access to services. Structural barriers caused by the criminalisation of drugs and the accompanying stigma and discrimination directed towards people who inject drugs are among the biggest contributors to this problem.

As one of the four key population networks included in the study, INPUD conducted eight regional focus group discussions and ten semi structured interviews with people who use drugs from 27 total countries. This report is a summary of our key findings that will be used to update the Consolidated Guidelines with the values and preferences of people who inject drugs.

The findings of this research emphasise the critical importance of listening to the values and preferences of people who inject drugs to guide services and interventions and ensure there is a primary focus on delivering genuine person centred care.

The report is available following this link>>>.