The EU Western Balkans and Turkey Civil Society Forum 2022

The EU TACSO 3 project organised the EU Western Balkans and Turkey Civil Society Forum on 8 – 9 June 2022, in Skopje, North Macedonia. Senior officials from the European Commission, EU Delegations, governments and diverse representatives from civil society organisations attended the Forum, a total of 120 participants in person, and an additional 100 online. In light of recent dramatic developments in Europe, namely the COVID-19 pandemic and Russia’s war of aggression against Ukraine, the Forum provided an opportunity to better understand challenges and opportunities in the region, and the role of civil society in helping to respond.

The main objective of the Forum was to launch the revised EU Guidelines for Support to Civil Society in the Enlargement region (2021-2027). These Guidelines set out objectives for EU assistance to civil society, provide a tool for governments to improve cooperation with civil society, and help to measure progress towards meeting conditions for EU integration. Over the period 2014 to 2020, through the Civil Society Facility and Media Programme, the EU has provided around EUR 330 million in support for civil society, whereas the amount planned for the period 2021-2023 is EUR 218 million. The Guidelines will assist the EU to assess the impact of this support.

Commenting on the discussion which followed, DPNSEE Executive Director Milutin Milošević emphasized two important point: that the most of the support goes to a selected number of large civil society organisations and that support whould also be shared to small and medium-size organisations, and that besides indicator proposed for implementation of the Guidelines, the impact achieved should be the main source of measuring their success.

The forum also discussed the current state of affairs for CSOs in the region, as well as joint actions on the part of the EU, public authorities and civil society that would address the identified challenges. The four priority areas: the Green Agenda; Rule of law, good governance and anti-corruption; Human rights, anti-discrimination and poverty reduction; and CSO cooperation with the media were discussed in separate breakout sessions.

 

Supporting women who use drugs victims of gender-based violence

Our member organisation HOPS – Options for Healthy Life Skopje, in the period from the 13th to the 15th April 2022, realized three one-day trainings in three different cities: Strumica, Bitola and Skopje on the topic: “Treatment of women victims of gender-based violence who use drugs“, intended for professionals working with victims of gender-based violence.

On April 13, the training was held in the Therapeutic Community “Pokrov” – Strumica, which was attended by a total of 13 representatives: 8 representatives from the Centers for Social Work in Sveti Nikole, Strumica, Kočani and Štip and 5 representatives from other non-governmental organizations: Educational – humanitarian organization “EHO” – Štip, Youth Club of the Red Cross Strumica, Women’s Action Radoviš, Sky Plus Strumica and the therapeutic community Pokrov Strumica.

On April 14, the training was held at the hotel “Millennium Palace” Bitola, which was attended by a total of 12 representatives, of which: 3 representatives from the Centers for Social Work in Prilep and Resen, 2 representatives from PHI Health Center Bitola and PHI General Hospital Prilep, 1 representative from PHI Psychomedica Bitola and 6 representatives from non-governmental organizations: Center for Human Rights AMOS – Bitola, Via Vita – Bitola, Station 5 – Prilep and Association for Social Action, Prevention Education EASP Prilep.

On April 15, the training was held in the hotel “City Park” Skopje, which was attended by a total of 13 representatives, as follows: 4 representatives from the Centers for Social Work in Skopje, Veles and Tetovo, 2 representatives from PHI General Hospital Kumanovo and 7 representatives by non-governmental organizations: Macedonian Young Lawyers Association, Association for Health Education and Research HERA Skopje, Civic Initiative for Women Sveti Nikole, National Network against Violence against Women and Domestic Violence and the Red Cross of the Republic of Northern Macedonia.

The trainings were led by prof. Dr. Liljana Ignjatova from the Medical Faculty Skopje, Department of Psychiatry and Hajdi Sterjova Simonovic – Executive Director of the Association HOPS. The purpose of these trainings is to sensitize the professionals who work with women who use drugs in cases when they are victims of gender-based violence.

The participants evaluated all three trainings extremely positively, both from the aspect of high quality and level of theoretical and practical knowledge of the trainers, as well as from the aspect of interaction established between the participants and the trainers and the possibility for exchange of information and experiences.

The experience from the held trainings showed us that there is a huge interest in this topic and the need to conduct such trainings in the future.

The trainings are organized by the Association HOPS, supported by the Eurasian Harm Reduction Association (EHRA), as part of the project “Access to comprehensive care for women who use drugs in cases of violence” funded by COVID-19 Response Mechanism (C19RM) of the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria as part of the regional project “Sustainability of services for key populations in Eastern Europe and Central Asia region” (#SoS_project) implemented by the Alliance for Public Health.

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>>>.

 

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.

 

Taking stock of budget advocacy efforts in EECA

The Eurasian Harm Reduction Association (EHRA) presented the mapping report „Taking stock of budget advocacy efforts in Eastern Europe, South-Eastern Europe and Central Asiа“ summarising budget advocacy efforts, funding and impact during the period 2018-2021 in CEECA countries. The focus of the assessment is on the role of civil society in budget advocacy, while acknowledging that government leaders, UN and technical partners play important roles as well. The assessment describes key budget advocacy initiatives and HIV donor support for them.

The report zooms in the four result areas of advocacy: civil society capacity to advocate; influencing HIV funding levels from national and local public sources; increasing efficiencies in spending; and contracting and funding for NGOs to deliver services. Without offering a comprehensive review, one of the final sections of the report shines light on efforts to influence budgets beyond HIV including in the fields of TB and health systems.

Regional overview is based on eight country case studies (including three fro Sout East Europe) exploring national experiences with budget advocacy, emerging challenges, and best practices. Kyrgyzstan, Moldova and Ukraine (lower middle-income countries), Georgia, Kazakhstan and Montenegro (upper middle income countries receiving donor support), and Bulgaria and North Macedonia (post-Global Fund countries) were selected for analysis.

To keep the mapping manageable and focused, this assessment has not attempted to assess neither the impact of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic on HIV budget advocacy and fiscal space for health financing nor potential savings from reducing criminalization of population behaviours.

Analytical report «Taking stock of budget advocacy efforts in Eastern Europe, South-Eastern Europe and Central Asiа» has been prepared by EHRA in partnership with Open Society Foundations, The Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria Sustainability, Transition and Efficiency Strategic Initiative and EECA regional team in cooperation with ECOM – Eurasian Coalition on Health, Rights, Gender and Sexual Diversity and Eurasian Women’s Network on AIDS (EWNA) as partners in the Eurasian Regional Consortium withing project “Thinking outside the box: overcoming challenges in community advocacy for sustainable and high-quality HIV services” supported by the Robert Carr Fund for civil society networks. Information was provided by country, regional and international partners. We are grateful to all our partners, members of Regional Advisory Group on Sustainability, interviewees and reviewers for their time and effort in work on this report.

To read the report, follow 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.

 

Global Drug Policy Index

The Harm Reduction Consortium, which includes the following partners: the European Network of People Who Use Drugs (EuroNPUD), the Eurasian Harm Reduction Association (EHRA), the Eurasian Network of People who Use Drugs (ENPUD), the Global Drug Policy Observatory (GDPO) / Swansea University, Harm Reduction International (HRI), the International Drug Policy Consortium (IDPC), the Middle East and North Africa Harm Reduction Association (MENAHRA), the West African Drug Policy Network (WADPN), the Women and Harm Reduction International Network (WHRIN), and Youth RISE, just published the Global Drug Policy Index – a unique tool that documents, measures and compares national drug policies.

The Index provides each country with a score and ranking that shows how much their drug policies and their implementation align with the UN principles of human rights, health and development. It offers an essential accountability and evaluation mechanism in the field of drug policy.

The Index is composed of 75 indicators running across 5 broad dimensions of drug policy: the absence of extreme responses, the proportionality of the criminal justice response, health and harm reduction, access to controlled medicines and development. Each country is then given a total score ranging from 0 to 100.

From the region of South East Europe, only North Macedonia is analysed in the 2021 issue of the Index. It took position 7 of 30 countries with overall index of 55/100:

  • Absence of extreme responses: 74/100
  • Proportionality & criminal justice: 38/100
  • Harm reduction: 46/100
  • Access to medicines: 61/100
  • Development: Not available

To read the Global Drug Policy Index, follow this link>>>.

 

International Conference on Drug Regulation Models

Our colleagues from the Healthy Project Options Skopje (HOPS) and Coalition Margins are organizing International Conference on Drug Regulation Models. The Conference will be organized on 18th and 19th November 2020, online, in form of panel discussions and expert presentations.

The conference is organized as part of the project “Sexual and Health Rights of Marginalized Communities“, supported by the Foundation Open Society – Macedonia.

This interesting event is going to present the new Comparative analysis of the drug regulation models in Netherlands and Portugal. It will have foreign experts presentations such us: João Castel-Branco Goulão, General Directorate for Intervention on Addictive Behaviours and Dependencies (SICAD), Director, Portugal; Tomas Zabransky, M.D., Ph.D., University professor, Czech Republic; Hans Abma, senior policy adviser, International Criminal Cooperation, Ministry of Justice, Netherlands; Thomas Zosel, Chief Inspector of Crime, Drug and Traffic prevention (E4), Police Headquarters Frankfurt am Main. Additionally, the Conference will engage domestic representatives from different institutions (police, judiciary, CSO’s, ministries, politicians, health institutions, community members) in discussion what can be done next in North Macedonia in the area concerned and give the topic an importance in the country.

In order to join the Conference, you have to register on the following link. Deadline for registration to the Conference is 16 November 2020 at 17.00 CET.

The Invitation with the agenda of the Conference is available following this link>>>. We hope you shall join and contribute. Please, don’t hesitate to share the information to your colleagues and partners.

 

North Macedonia readopted the Anti-Discrimination Law

North Macedonia’s parliament adopted the Anti-Discrimination Law, which among other things guarantees protection from gender-based discrimination.

The previous governments led by the conservative right-wing VMRO DPMNE from 2006 to 2017 refused to include sexual orientation in the law. It was then originally passed by the Social Democrat-led majority in 2019. However, the Constitutional Court struck down the law in May this year, to the dismay of LGBT organisations and human rights groups, ruling that it was not passed with a proper quorum in parliament. The Law now passed in parliament with 69 out of 120 members of the parliament supporting it, from both ruling and opposition parties. No MPs voted against it.

Prior to the vote in parliament, the Network Against Discrimination, which comprises many prominent North Macedonian NGOs, criticised the government’s recent decision to dismiss its proposal to add stricter rules for a more transparent and inclusive procedure to elect members of the Anti-Discrimination Commission, which the government said is already part of the law.