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.

3 June

Denis Dedajić, the DPNSEE Vice-President and President of the member organisation Margina was one of the speakers at the webinar on “Outreach Work during the Covid-19 crisis” organised by Correlation – European Harm Reduction Network.

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.

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

 

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

New model of work in Zenica and Tuzla

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.

Drawing on our life experiences we have had the opportunity to experience (the 4-year war, the floods of 2014), we can point out that we have very quickly adapted to the situation caused by the COVID 19 pandemic.

Our operations are compounded by the funding problems of our services that you are already aware of. Our organization is the only one that has survived the provision of harm reduction services in all of Bosnia and Herzegovina.

In accordance with the orders and recommendations of the Crisis Staff managing this health and social crisis, we had to close both Drop in centres (Zenica and Tuzla) and transferred all forces to the field.

A rapid mapping of the terrain was carried out and interviews with a large number of clients enabled a new methodology of work, all in line with the recommendations on the method of contacts between people. We currently cover all our clients in two regions, covering about 1 million people and about 1.800 of our clients, and with the great help of our clients we have identified in both regions 20 key points – persons to whom we deliver all the materials available to us.

The material is delivered on the basis of the stated needs of our clients. In the period from March 1st to April 10th we distributed in both regions 51.800 needles and syringes, 25.000 pieces of distilled water, alcohol wipes, containers for preparation of the mixture and 1.200 containers for disposal of infectious waste. It should be noted that during this period about 45.000 needles and syringes and other infectious material were collected and deposited in our drop in centres until this crisis passed.

We have established 4 sex workers supply lines and have distributed a lot of materials (over 500 hygiene packages) and unfortunately this is the only one they have received over the last three months.

The biggest win at the moment is the involvement and commitment of our clients throughout this work process.

In interviews with the inmates of the largest prison, we confirmed that they lack basic equipment such as mask gloves and disinfectants and the needs are quite high. The good situation is that all visits are suspended and there is very little opportunity for COVID to break into these facilities, although they need urgent help with these safeguards to improve the prevention system and reduce the possibility of infection.

 All of this work is done by 6 of our employees and we all do all the work and have very few resources at our disposal. The 6 of us have been volunteering for a long time and will work as long as we have materials to share with our clients.

If this model of work continues, our supplies are sufficient by the end of June. After that we will be forced to close after 18 years of conducting harm reduction services in Bosnia and Herzegovina because we will no longer be able to do so.

 

Duga active both locally and wider

Our member organisation Duga supports vulnerable populations in their municipality Šabac, but their outreach team is, as usual, active around Serbia.

During first days of the epidemic in Serbia, 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.

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.

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

The Duga team, together with assistant of the Roma coordinator of the city of Šabac Sanja Petrović, distributed 122 humanitarian packages to 251 people in villages of Petlovača, Cerovac, MIšar, Letnjikovac, Pocerski Pričinović, Majur, Varna, Pocerski Metković, Bogosavac, Lipolist and the city of Šabac on 14 and 15 April.

DPNSEE Board discussed situation in the region

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.

Based on the information collected at conference calls with member organisations, the Board concluded that it is time to make some conclusions and decisions about what we can do in the forthcoming period to help member organisations and ensure their sustainability after the current crisis caused by the coronavirus.

The Board also concluded that member organisations and the did a good job reacting in time, providing information to the communities, organising the work of our services in accordance with the situation and protecting our staff and, wherever possible, communicating with state officials and inviting them to protect vulnerable populations. Most of our users behave responsibly, even taking initiative and helping our organisations. The drug market is stable. The problems include lack of opportunity to start the treatment during the epidemic and lack of income to buy essential needs, bit also drugs. In most of the countries, we have problem to ensure enough protective material for our staff. In some countries, state institutions, especially drug agencies/offices, should provide more help to users for methadone distribution, protection of their rights, etc.

The Board decided to call an on-line conference on protection of vulnerable populations in South East Europe for Thursday 23 April. Besides our members and other civil society organisations from the region and wider, we shall invite to the conference national drug agencies and health institutions, international organisations partners and donors.

 

Greek organisations started street work with vulnerable groups

The Positive Voice announces the suspension of the operation of the prevention and examination centres “Checkpoint” in Athens and Thessaloniki, from 16 March 2020.

In the context of our contribution to the suspension of the spread of the pandemic, but also to the protection of the health of their visitors, volunteers and employees, the Association took all appropriate measures and has already stopped the operation of Red Umbrella Athens in Omonia and the examinations at the “Syn Athena” Home of the Municipality of Athens.

But, the same day, in the framework of the emergency plan for the care of homeless and psychoactive substance users, the Municipality of Athens held a meeting with organizations active in the field of prevention and harm reduction of vulnerable groups. The Association of HIV-positive people of Greece “Positive Voice”, the Association of Liver Patients “Prometheus“, OKANA, KETHEA, Praksis, STEPS and Doctors of the World were invited and attended.

The agreements that were unanimously accepted are oriented to the following actions:

  • Minimize the transmission of the virus to the vulnerable population, through continuous information, wide distribution of sanitary and pure injectable material and access to personal hygiene, nutrition and hospitality services.
  • Adoption of measures aimed at reducing the consequences of the transmission of the virus

Since then, the street work of the associations “Positive Voice” and “Prometheus” has been carrying out actions to support vulnerable groups through the provision of food, safe use synergies and protective equipment (such as gloves and condoms).

In particular, to date they have reached 434 people and have distributed more than:

  • 200 kit of sanitary material for injectable use
  • 2,882 condoms
  • 110 servings of food
  • 464 snacks (toast / sandwich / croissant)
  • 208 juices and water

The Anti-Narcotics Agency (OKANA) has contributed to this effort by distributing sanitary material, safe use synergies and information leaflets.

On Tuesday, April 7, 2020, the Association of HIV-positive people of Greece “Positive Voice” and the Association of Patients of Liver of Greece “Prometheus” were hosted on the ANT1 show “Special Report”.

Journalists conducted extensive research discussing the people who live on the streets and the organizations that implement their support programs. Following the appearance of the first case of COVID-19 in a homeless day centre in Piraeus, the show is investigating the safety net of vulnerable groups from the spread of the virus.

As part of the emergency plan of the Municipality of Athens for the care of homeless and users of psychoactive substances, the two associations have undertaken an extraordinary initiative through street work, in order to support vulnerable groups. Users of psychoactive substances, homeless people, sex workers, immigrants and refugees are the target groups of the initiative and their support is provided through the provision of safe use and protective materials (such as gloves, injectable material and condoms).

In his interview, the President of the Association “Prometheus”, George Kalamitsis, among other things, noted that things have not changed enough today. “What has changed is that some of our fellow citizens are more afraid. There is fear either for the pandemic, or because there are too many police in central Athens at the moment. The reasons are obvious, but they are scary. As for the hospitality structures and the supervision of the people who live in them, we need services that can be adapted to the needs of the people.

At the same time, Nikos Fitsialos, head of the street work team, added that “general attention needs to be paid to the people who are outside, especially now that citizens who are in solidarity are not circulating and will share a portion of food or a conversation. People lack communication. We notice that people want to talk to us, they ask us and they need it. Not necessarily to learn information about the coronary artery, but to have a human contact.

In the interview, the Municipality of Athens highlighted the need to minimize the transmission of the pandemic to vulnerable populations, through continuous information, wide distribution of medical supplies and access to personal hygiene, nutrition and hospitality services. In addition, Nikitas Kanakis from Doctors of the World added that “the homeless today are under the radar of epidemiological surveillance and are people who do not have the ability, not only to protect themselves but also do not have the right to individual responsibility.

The action of the street work team takes place three times a week, every Wednesday, Thursday and Friday and is implemented mainly in Omonia, Exarchia, Syggrou Avenue in Metaxourgeio and on Panepistimiou (Nomiki), Kavala, Iasonos, and Patision (ASOE) streets. . After careful consideration of the growing needs, it is necessary to expand working hours and days, something that will happen very soon.

Positive Voice also published advice for Greek citizens that have been stranded abroad and those that are not a Greek citizen and have been stranded in Greece on the procedure for accessing antiretroviral treatment.

For more information about activities in Greece, you can contact Positive Voice.

Services in Slovenia well organised

Drop-in centres in Slovenia have been closed by the decision of the Ministry of Labour, Family and Social Affairs since the beginning of the COVID-19 epidemic.

In Ljubljana, the Association for Harm Reduction Stigma continues to distribute sterile injecting equipment. The mobile outreach service (a van) continues to operate in the central part of Slovenia.

Injecting drug users have access to sterile injecting equipment but security measures are introduced: clients and staff have to keep 1.5 m distance from each other. All other information and counselling are available via telephone or online.

Drug testing, performed by Association Drogart, is open, but in smaller scale as before and with more safety measures.

OST is working, users get their take home medicine for a week, some even for two or three weeks. OST delivery was organised in a very good way since the first indications that the epidemic can hit Europe appeared.

One of the problems is closure of public transportation, which means that some persons cannot reach the OST clinics. For some of them, Association for harm reduction Stigma can deliver their methadone.

The greatest challenge is to support homeless people because they have nowhere to go (all daily care programs are closed, as well as public toilettes, due to safety reasons). There are negotiations with local authorities and ministries on how to deal with this situation.

Night shelters and safe houses for women are still open. However, it is very problematic because staff and clients have no safety masks. The use of disinfectants is mandatory.

The shelter in Ljubljana, run by the organisation Krali ulice, received new furniture. A special shelter for homeless people who may be infected with coronavirus is ready if this happens.