HOPS closed their harm reduction center

From the HOPS webpage and the Radio MOF news

The Association HOPS – Options for Healthy Life Skopje announced that yesterday, on World Health Day, and in just a day before today’s International Roma Day, after 15 years of existence, they had to close the daily harm reduction center Šuto Orizari – a Skopje suburban municipality with a Muslim Romani people majority.

They point out that the reason for closing the day center is the reduction of funds for HIV prevention programs from the national budget.

“This center opened in 2007, with funds from the Global Fund, and from then until yesterday was the only place where Roma who use drugs and their families had easy access to all services that provide HIV prevention, but also harm reduction from drug use. In this center our customers received basic (and often unique) medical care, received information and support for their social and legal problems, could wash their clothes, warm themselves in winter, eat when they are hungry, drink coffee or tea in a friendly, non-stigmatizing and non-discriminatory atmosphere,” said HOPS.

During the coronavirus pandemic, HOPS managed harm reduction centre was one only contact with the system drug users and their families in Šuto Orizari had.

“When they were isolated and had no therapy, when they had health problems, when they survived all forms of violence, including gender-based violence, when they were given criminal warrants for violating curfew because they went out to find food, goods or therapy – they only received help from our team,” states HOPS. In addition, they say that access to health services, which has already been difficult for these people, has multiplied during the pandemic.

The association says that although in 2017 with the transition of funding from the Global Fund of the Government they merged two other centers, just to keep the center in Šuto Orizari. Now, as they say, they have been put in a position to close the busiest and most visited center in Kisela Voda or to close the “much needed” center in Šuto Orizari.

“From today, the lives of people who use drugs in Šuto Orizari and the surrounding area will not be the same, but HOPS will do its best within its financial means to continue its activities for prevention of HIV and other infectious diseases.” said HOPS.

At the same time, they announced that three times a week, their field team consisting of a social worker and a field worker will visit the users in their homes, dwellings or temporary residences, and that twice a week a medical person will visit them with their vehicle.

 

Drug users guide on contacting by the police

Our member organisation Coalition “Margini” from North Macedonia published a very useful guide for guide for drug users in situations when they are contacted by police.

What if I get caught with drugs? Can the police call me for an interview and do I have to show up? How can I exercise my right to a lawyer? – These are just some of the questions that can be answered in this handbook, primarily intended for drug users when contacting the police.

The guide, in Macedonian, is available following this link>>>.

 

DPNSEE annual General Assembly

The Drug Policy Network South East Europe held its regular annual General Assembly on 29 March 2022. The Assembly was again held online.

The Assembly performed regular annual duties: discussed and adopted the narrative and financial reports for 2021. The report states that 2021 was a challenging year, but that DPNSEE and our member organisations managed to operate in a solid way, although the space for our work is more and more shrinking.

DPNSEE have managed last year to reach the new horizons. We have been welcomed to the EU Civil Society Forum on Drugs. Our representatives spoke on important events, our colleagues elected to other important positions. We joined Correlation, EHRA and other organisations and networks in joint advocacy to fight harm reduction crisis in our region and preparing project proposal for project submitted to the EU for Health programe.

Most of our work in 2021 was dedicated to young people. We implemented the “No risk, no borders for young people” project with our 5 member organisations. We already have a large group of engaged young people, many of whom takes important roles in their organisations and internationally. We hope that they bring a new spirit and engage their peers.

You can find more about the work of DPNSEE in 2021 in the report following this link>>>.

Unfortunately, the Assembly acknowledged that Centre for Life from Greece stopped operating so we had to take them off the list of our member organisations. On the other side, the Assembly recognised the LINK – Montenegrin Harm Reduction Network as the ordinary member organisation. The Assembly also changed the status of organisation PROI from Bosnia Herzegovina from ordinary to associate.

Members of the new Board are
Nebojša Đurasović, President, President of Prevent, Serbia
Nicoleta Dascălu, Vice-President, Advocacy manager, ARAS, Romania
Marios Atzemis, Harm reduction worker, Positive Voice, Greece and Consultant at European AIDS Treatment Group and Steering Committee member of AIDS Action Europe
Besnik Hohxa, Clinical psychologist, Aksion Plus, Albania
Berina Bahić, Project coordinator and head of regional office Tuzla, Margina, Bosnia Herzegovina
Marija Mijović, Deputy Coordinator of the Direct Assistance Program, Juventas, Montenegro
Zharin Simrin, User Activist, Coordinator and Assistant for Needle Exchange, HOPS, North Macedonia

We are assured that the combinations of experience and youth, men and women, people from communities and those supporting them and geographic spread around the region we have now in the Board will be efficient and effective in the challenging period ahead.

In the second session, the Assembly completed the strategy review process with the support of our consultant Nenad Čelarević. The new Board will consolidate the results of the process and propose Action plan to implement the strategy.

Protest for drastic budget cut for HIV prevention program

Three civil society organisations from North Macedonia, our member HOPS (Healthy Options Project Skopje), Stronger together (Association for Support of People Living with HIV) and HERA (Health Education and Research Association) protested today because of the budget cuts for HIV prevention program.

Here are some extracts from their statement:

By cutting the budget for HIV prevention by 40%, the Ministry of Health puts the health of at least 10,000 affected citizens at stack. In a scandalous and flat way, without any expert discussion, the Ministry of Health cut as much as 40% of the funds provided for HIV prevention in the Program for protection of the population from HIV-infection for 2022, which the Government adopted only a month ago. Thus, the state puts at risk the closure of the established capacities for control of HIV infection in the country and endangers the health of at least 10,000 citizens from the marginalized communities.

Instead of the envisaged 46.5 million denars in the Program for protection of the population from HIV infection intended for HIV prevention services implemented by about 14 associations in 12 cities in the country, the Ministry of Health yesterday announced a public call for associations with an amount reduced by even 19 million denars. The decision was not consulted by the National Commission on HIV.

 Thanks to these programs, the Republic of Northern Macedonia in the past 15 years has maintained full control of the HIV epidemic in populations of people injecting drugs and sex workers and one of the lowest infection rates in the region. In the past 3 months, the entire national response to this epidemic is literally at the expense of 14 civil society organizations, which continue to work without any compensation for their work.

 Discontinuation of services for vulnerable groups will mean an increase in new infections and an increase in deaths due to HIV, and on the other hand increased pressure on key health institutions, such as the Infectious Diseases Clinic and addiction treatment centers. Even a small increase in the HIV epidemic will lead to a multiplier increase in the cost of treatment and health care. Hence, the decision to arbitrarily cut is simply a bad public health policy.

 In Macedonia, young people are still dying from HIV, and according to the methodology of the European Center for Disease Control, it is estimated that even one third (34%) of the total number of people living with HIV in the country are not aware that they have the virus. With this, Macedonia lags significantly behind the world average, which for 2020 was only 16%. The global goal by 2025 is to reduce the percentage of people who are not aware that they have HIV to less than 5%, which will lead to a drastic decline in the transmission of infection and will allow to put an end to the HIV epidemic by 2030.

 Given the alarming situation and citing the country’s commitments under the United Nations Policy Declaration on HIV and AIDS of June 2021, including the obligation to end the HIV epidemic, as well as the commitments made by the Government to ensure the continuity of HIV programs, we require:

  • Urgently correct the announced public call for associations that will implement the activities for HIV prevention in accordance with the amounts provided in the Program for protection of the population from HIV-infection for 2022, adopted by the Government in February this year;
  • The Government and the Parliament should finally guarantee the continuity of the already established system for protection against HIV. This means: The Assembly to adopt without delay and in full the amendments to the Law on Health Care which are in parliamentary procedure, and refer to the mechanism of involvement of associations in the implementation of health programs, and the Ministry of Health to develop bylaws that will fulfilled the obligations from the conclusions adopted by the Government in September 2017 and the obligations from the previous and current Government Strategy for cooperation and development of the civil society sector;
  • Due to the long delay in announcing the public call, the Government and the Ministry of Health through intervention support to reimburse the costs of the associations for the first quarter of 2022 incurred due to their dedicated maintenance of the national response to HIV.

 

Safe Party project

Our member organisation Re Generation hosted today the Round table on the occasion of the #BezbedanParty (SafeParty) project.

During the Round Table, the results of four months of this project were presented. Within the event, proposals for the amendments of local and national Action Plans were presented in order to increase the safety of young people in nightlife, created by the joint work of NGOs Re Generation and experts, based on data obtained through community research.

Every day we encounter various situations in the night life, in which young people who go out to nightclubs and attend festivals can potentially be exposed to dangers related to the use of psychoactive substances (drugs and alcohol), but also other health, social and legal risks. This is partly because the public is not familiar with harm reduction programs, and an honest and fact-based conversation about drugs remains taboo.

A pocket guide to safer clubbing

That is why the goal of this project was to initiate a dialogue on risk issues in the night life, and encourage and introduce the community to harm reduction programs in Belgrade, and educate those who work and those who work to survive clubbing more safely.

Activities of the project included:

  • Training for peer educators intended for young people who go out to nightclubs and visit festivals, but also to DJs, owners, managers, promoters and other figures in the clubbing industry. Upon completion of the training, participants will be introduced to harm reduction programs when consuming psychoactive substances.
  • Promotion of educational materials related to harm reduction programs, safer nightlife practices, as well as the distribution of party packs
  • Discussion with the competent authorities in order to amend the relevant National Strategies and Action Plans
  • The #SafeParty campaign, which will not only invite the target group to action, but will also be able to contribute, keep up to date with events, changes and news, but also to get involved in the advocacy action itself.

 

 

The #BezbedanParty project was implemented as part of the “Explore – Empower” public advocacy support program funded by the UK Government and implemented by the Trag Foundation. The implementation of this project was strategically supported by the Office for Combating Drugs of the Government of the Republic of Serbia.

To get more information about the project (in Serbian), follow this link>>>.

 

Support to Ukrainian refugees in Romania

The wave of refugees fleeing Ukraine after the start of the war came also to neighbouring Romania. So far, 500.000 of them entered Romania – most of them transiting to other destinations, while 50.000 stayed in the country.

Our member organisation ARAS from Romania immediately got organised to provide them help and continues to be with those who were forced to leave their families, homes and friends because of the war in Ukraine!

The ARAS apartment became a house, for a week, for 4 people: three women and a 9-year-old girl, followed another 4 ariving later. Company MODELiER provides a hot meal to the refugees accommodated by ARAS.

The ARAS team facilitated access to ARV treatment in Bucharest for a woman living with HIV from Ukraine. This was possible due to a joint effort of ARAS and the National Institute of Infectious Diseases “Prof. Dr. Matei Balş”, which responded promptly to the request, so that treatment is not interrupted. It was the first situation of this kind; ARAS are sure, unfortunately, that it is not the last. In 2020, according to UNAIDS estimates, 250.000 people were living with HIV in Ukraine.

In order to continue offering these services, ARAS invited for donations. The information about this is available on the ARAS website (https://arasnet.ro/donatie-paypal/) or directly in the bank accounts available at the image below with the mention UKRAINE.

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.

 

Should sex work be regulated in Serbia?

President od “Prevent” Nebojša Đurasović (also DPNSEE President) was invited by the Nova S TV station to the discussion about legalisation of sex work in Serbia. Other guests in the TV show “Between Us” were Andrijana Radojčić Nedeljković from the non-governmental organization Atina and Blažo Marković, president of the Union of Police and Police Officers.

Nebojša promoted the approach that as the first step it would be important to decriminalise sex work. That would allow those involved to get health and other kinds of protection.

The discussion, in Serbian, is available following this link>>>.

Consultancy Services to Develop a Monitoring and Evaluation System

Our colleagues from Labyrinth opened a request for proposals for Consultancy Services to Develop a Monitoring and Evaluation System. The call is part of the project Response to Social Protection Challenges of the Marginalized communities Led by Innovation, Education and Functionality (RELIEF), supported by the European Union, represented by the European Union Office in Kosovo.

Purpose of the service is to develop a Monitoring and Evaluation System for the EU Funded project REsponse to social protection challenges of the marginalized communities Led by Innovation, Education and Functionality – RELIEF. The main purpose of the service is to develop the M&E plan that will accompany the project Action Plan together with the project Log Frame to facilitate the effective monitoring of the programme.

The closing date of the Call is 02 November 2021. For More infomation, please visit the Labyrinth’s webpage following this link>>>.

 

DPNSEE appeal to the governments in countries of the region

On the occasion of 26th June, the United Nations’ International Day against Drug Abuse and Illicit Trafficking, as part of the Support Don’t Punish campaign’s ‘Global Day of Action’, the Drug Policy Network South East Europe and its member organisations appeal to the governments in countries of the region to ensure that people who use drugs are safe from discrimination and enjoy care which is needed.

It is time to leave behind harmful politics, ideology and prejudice and to prioritise health and human rights over incarceration and futile efforts to achieve a ‘drug-free world. It is time to support, and not punish people who use drugs and other non-violent drug offenders.

To read the Appeal, follow this link>>>.