Mass media as partners in counteracting HIV/AIDS epidemic

Mass media play a major role in fighting for human rights, especially when it comes to population groups vulnerable to HIV. Through the wide media coverage of successful human rights defence cases implemented by community and civil society, the government can see that the community of People Living with HIV (PLHIV) and people vulnerable to HIV can and should be an equal partner and an ally in fighting HIV/AIDS epidemic.

This helps with forming a positive image of PLHIV and representatives of other key populations in the society, decreases stigma and discrimination, raises their self-esteem and self-significance and gives motivation for further activities and professional growth.

Thanks to the coverage of successful practices in mass media, a large number of PLHIV, people who use drugs (PWUD) and representatives of other vulnerable groups gain opportunity to get basic human rights knowledge, action plans and tools, which allow them to solve problems related to violation of human rights due to HIV in their own regions independently.

Liudmila Vins, project manager of LUNa Social Support Centre, legal adviser of Interregional Center for Human Rights in Yekaterinburg, has applied to the Emergency Support Fund for key populations in EECA for a grant. The goal of her project is to change the legal environment and public opinion towards people living with HIV and representatives of groups vulnerable to HIV through mass media.

Liudmila, what is the core of your project?

Our way of working is as follows – our lawyer together with partners, street lawyers from the regions, collects successful legal practices and strategically important cases, prepares the gathered materials for media publications, provides a legal evaluation and an algorithm for solving the problem. An info manger writes articles based on the cases for mass media and our own media resources, passes information about these cases to journalists through mailing lists, social media, and connects media and people featured in the cases in order to prepare further materials.

Could you tell us about the intermediate project results?

Yes, the project has substantially helped us to develop the informational part of our work and also gave a start to a new project of educating Russian NGOs on working with media. We found 17 cases, which resulted in 33 publications. Each case contained a story of at least one person – the leading story character, and at least 2 more people connected to the story, close relatives of the leading character. In total 51 people were featured in the stories.

Please share the most interesting and remarkable moments of the project.

The most remarkable example of support within this project is Olga’s story (the name is changed). We published it on our website.

Local journalists quickly noticed this material; they immediately reacted and published a number of articles about the fact that a woman in detention facility doesn’t receive treatment for HIV-infection. The news travelled fast: one journalist made a lot of requests to government agencies and received a positive decision from government officials. The result was that this woman received medication the same day.

You started your social support activities for vulnerable groups in 2009. How have the statistics changed since then?

At that time harm reduction programs were developing actively. However, the issue of defending the rights of PWUD was still unresolved, so starting from 2012 I began to develop street lawyers programming in Yekaterinburg. The need for this kind of support is very high now. In 2012 legal assistance was given to 100 people per year, and there was one street lawyer. Currently we work with 5 street lawyers, and we give this kind of support to people on a regular basis.

Who are the street lawyers?

These are people from the key populations community who are taught the basics of human rights defense. So, they can provide basic support with human rights defense, and then, if necessary, pass on cases to professional lawyers.

What is the attitude of the key populations’ representatives towards your activities?

We have a good connection with our target group, they are happy to receive our support. However, there are certain difficulties. For example, a person can disappear for a period of time while being under our supervision. Then (s) he appears again in a month, and we have to start from the beginning.

Why do you think it is so important to involve representative of key populations in such work?

Almost all of our staff members except for two are people from the key populations/PWUD community. I have been in remission for a long time myself. I think that a different approach is simply not effective. Nobody can truly understand PWUD as well as a person who has gone through it too, and most importantly, who was able to overcome it and solve a problematic situation successfully.

When people are doing something for the society, they often have an ideal example of such society in mind. Do you have one?

I don’t have examples of an ideal situation in any country. There are drawbacks everywhere. When it comes to talking about the approach to working with PWUD in Russia, I reply that there’s simple no such work. Those few NGOs that provide harm reduction programs, can’t reach all the PWUD to the full extent. For me the ideal situation is when the system of social support is developed in the country, there are harm reduction programs, access to quality treatment, and there is no stigma and discrimination within the society.

For people living with HIV in Belarus

Since July 19, 2019, a new version of article 157 “Transmission of Human Immunodeficiency Virus” of the Criminal Code of Belarus has been enforced. Despite the approved amendments to this article, it still contributes to vulnerability of the key populations, in particular serodiscordant couples (where one of the partners has HIV). However, a solution has been found, thanks to which the amendment will be able to serve for the benefit of people living with HIV.

For reference

There is a number of important provisions in the new version of article 157 of the Criminal Code of Belarus.

  • Knowingly exposing another person to HIV is punished with a fine or an arrest or imprisonment for up to three years.
  • If an individual, who knows about being infected with HIV, transmits HIV to another person recklessly or with indirect intent, this offense is punished with imprisonment for the term from two to seven years.
  • The action stipulated by the second part of this article committed against two or more persons, or a person who is known to be a minor, or with direct intent, is punished with imprisonment for the term from five to 13 years.

Besides, the amendment to this article says that the individual committing the actions stipulated in the first and second parts of the article may be relieved from the criminal liability in case if the other person, who was exposed to HIV or was infected with HIV, had been in advance warned about the fact that such individual had HIV and voluntarily agreed to perform any acts, which led to HIV exposure.

Avoiding prosecution

Before this amendment was enforced, the People PLUS Republican Public Association in cooperation with the Republican Center for Hygiene and Epidemiology held a round table to develop a set of measures, which would allow people to fully use the amendments in laws and protect themselves from the criminal prosecution. It resulted in the development of a road map and other documents regulating the fact of warning, which would lead to the enforcement of this amendment. Such documents include.

– New form “How to warn another person that I have HIV”

– Form to warn a contact person of a patient with HIV

– Memo on HIV prevention

Anatoliy Leshenok, Director of the People PLUS Republican Public Association

“When preparing the documents, we tried to take into account any possible circumstances and potential barriers,” says Anatoliy Leshenok, Deputy Director of the People PLUS Republican Public Association. “For example, the Investigative Committee, commenting on the amendment, pointed out that it is important to understand what is the procedure to check in which state an individual gave his or her consent to have a contact with a person living with HIV, to check if he or she had enough information, etc. The Notary Chamber suggested to register informed consent as a confirmation of consent for the contact with a person living with HIV. The Republican Center for Hygiene and Epidemiology developed a new notification form to be used when registering people with HIV diagnoses for follow-up, provided explanations on the amendment to article 157 of the Criminal Code of Belarus and told that it is possible to come to them with a partner to register the fact of warning of HIV exposure. A memo on HIV notification has also been developed and will be published within our project. It will be given to the partners of HIV-positive people. The memo contains contact details of the organizations providing services to PLWH as well as legal consultations.”

Who is at risk?

In the recent 6 months, there were 55 criminal cases initiated in Belarus based on article 157 of the Criminal Code. This number is similar to the one that was registered in 2018. However, it should be noted that 28 cases out of this total number were opened based on the first part of this article, where there is no fact of HIV transmission, but only a perceived risk.

“Recently, we were defense witnesses at a court hearing, when the defendant was charged with putting five sexual partners at risk of HIV,” tells Anatoliy. “The defendant did not transmit HIV to any of those partners – he took ARVs and had an undetectable viral load. The court took into the consideration the scientific consensus statement on HIV transmission, the answer of a WHO representative and the reply from the Professor of the Infectious Disease Department of the Belarus State University on the risk of HIV transmission by a person with suppressed viral load. However, the verdict of the court was that there was still a risk of HIV transmission, so the sentence remained unchanged – 18 months at standard regime penal colony. Just imagine – 18 months of imprisonment for not transmitting HIV to anyone!”

In fact, article 157 put a question mark over the existence of serodiscordant couples, who often live together for many years and even have children. Usually, within such criminal cases charges are brought against a husband or a wife, while the “victim” clearly states in court that he or she has no complaints to the spouse and that he or she was consciously taking risk to conceive a child with a loved one.

Drawbacks of this article also relate to the fact that criminal cases are initiated with no complaints from the victim.

“When making amendments in article 157, we were suggesting more radical changes – to fully exclude responsibility for exposure to HIV from this article – but the society is so far not ready for such changes,” continued Anatoliy. “Currently, the cases initiated based on this article are reviewed, where the sentences directly state that the partner was informed about HIV and consciously agreed to the actions, which led to HIV transmission or exposure to HIV. According to the Code of Criminal Procedure, the review of such cases is initiated by penal colonies and prisons, and if a person is not imprisoned, such person should file a relevant request for review with a court.”

First successes

Approval of the amendment to article 157 of the Criminal Code “Transmission of HIV” together with the set of enforcement measures, which were implemented through the grant from the Emergency Support Fund for Key Populations in Eastern Europe and Central Asia (EECA), allowed talking about the first successes of the activists in HIV response in Belarus. Now hundreds of people can have the record of their conviction expunged, with many more who will be able to avoid criminal prosecution.

Daria Alexeeva: “The Majority of Applications to the Emergency Support Fund Come from Russia”

Author: Olesya Kravchuk, AFEW International

Starting from December 2018, organisations from 10 countries in Eastern Europe and Central Asia can receive small grants with a maximum amount of €5,000 per grant. AFEW International and Aidsfonds started awarding emergency grants in the framework of the Emergency Support Fund for Key Populations (ESF). The activities of the Fund are financed by the Elton John AIDS Foundation and Aidsfonds. With these small grants AFEW International and Aidsfonds support organisations representing key populations in surviving in difficult situations which they face due to legal barriers, stigma and discrimination, financial challenges and political restrictions. Support is given to organisations carrying out activities that ensure access to HIV prevention, treatment and/or services for key populations, or projects protecting the human rights of key populations. The total funds available in the Emergency Support Fund is equivalent of the 750,000 pound sterling.

Today we are talking with AFEW International’s program manager Daria Alexeeva about the first results of ESF’s work, and what it takes to be awarded the small grant.

– What are the first results of Emergency Support Fund’s work?

– During this first phase, our main tasks were to set up the grant application process, the selection procedure and the infrastructure for receiving and qualifying applications. All three aspects were ready by December 1, 2018. The invitation to apply for a grant from the ESF was spread widely in the networks of AFEW, Aidsfonds and the members of the Advisory Board. In December 2018 AFEW International has established a system to administer grants to applicants. On January 4th the first meeting of the Operational Team took place to review first applications. Since December 1, 2018 we received 96 applications, of which 42 (44%) were approved for grants. The total committed amount by the end of March 2019 was Euro 235.000.

– What countries are applying to the Fund the most?

– The majority of applications came from Russia. We received 45 applications from the Russian Federation and awarded 22 applications. The next most active country was Tajikistan with 15 applications, and 7 being awarded. The third one was Ukraine with 16 applications, 5 of which were awarded.

– What problems do organisations address the most?

– More than half of the awarded grants are targeting people living with HIV (PLHIV) – 55%. One third of all awarded grants went to the projects which provide support to communities of LGBTI, and one third – to communities of men having sex with men (MSM). One third of the awarded grants support projects for people using drugs (PUDs). The equal amount of the awarded grants – 21% – supports projects for sex workers and vulnerable women.

– How does the Fund help to solve the problems organisations have?

– We are helping with a broad range of emergencies. We have several goals within the Fund. The first one is contributing to decline in the annual number of new HIV infections in Eastern Europe and Central Asia (EECA). The second goal is increasing access of everyone who is living with HIV in the EECA region to treatment. The third goal is full funding of the AIDS response in EECA.

Thus, we are funding activities, which contribute to these goals. Among the grants we awarded are projects aimed at the provision of harm reduction services, HIV testing and referrals for the treatment for difficult to reach populations (MSM, LGBTI). We have funded repairing mobile units for outreach work, purchasing milk formula to secure stock for HIV positive women. We support project working for disabled PLHIV making sure they are able to adhere to their treatment regimens, and projects which help prisoners getting access to testing and treatment, and to adhere to their treatment after they are released from prisons. Besides, there are projects organising trainings of the medical staff with the goal to form a tolerant attitude towards key populations, for instance, transgender people, in order to improve access and quality to health services and antiretroviral treatment. We also support advocacy activities to raise awareness of the needs of the key population and to call for the funding increase, for instance, provide legal support to cases of rights violation in prisons to generate evidence for advocacy. There are much more issues we support that are aligned within our three goals that I have mentioned before.

– What type of applications is being rejected by the Fund?

– Some of the projects are one-off events which are not carefully thought through from the sustainability point of view. For instance, conducting training for outreach workers without creating a system to support their work in the future. Besides, there are projects which are contributing to solving a real emergency situation. Some of the proposals are just weakly written. In all cases, we provide feedback and advice on how to improve the proposal if an applicant decides to submit again.

– What are ESF’s plans for the future? How many projects do you plan to support in 2019 and in the years afterwards?

– We plan to support at least 100 applications and maybe even more in the period till the end of 2020. We will continue supporting applications until the total funds that are available will be exhausted. We might be done in the middle of 2020 already. The amount of grants to be awarded depends on the size of the requested funds. In some cases, we allow a grant up to 10,000 euro, in particular when the project is contributing to solving situations which concern bigger groups of key populations or when the project is contributing to generating the evidence needed for developing prevention programs and advocacy towards national or local governments. When the emergency situation cannot be solved with 5,000 euro – then the bigger amount is awarded as well. We foresee a little fewer approved grants in the second quarter of 2019. By the way, there will be a summer break in the reviewing of applications from 8th July till 16th August due to holidays.

Open Call for Applications for the Emergency Support Fund for Key Populations in EECA

AFEW International and Aidsfonds announce their call for applications for emergency grants in the framework of the Emergency Support Fund for Key Populations. The activities of the Fund are financed by the Elton John AIDS Foundation.

Organisations from 10 countries in Eastern Europe and Central Asia can receive small grants with a maximum amount of €5,000 per grant. With these small grants AFEW International and Aidsfonds will support organisations representing key populations in surviving in difficult situations which they face due to legal barriers, stigma and discrimination, financial challenges and political restrictions. Support will be given to organisations carrying out activities that ensure access to HIV prevention, treatment and/or services for key populations, or projects protecting the human rights of key populations.

Organisations that meet the criteria are invited to apply for a small grant. The online application portal will be open from December 1, 2018. Applications can be submitted on an on-going basis and the first grants disbursement will start in January 2019.

You can download the complete call here and apply online here. An example of the form can be found here (that is only the example, not for filling in.)

The Advisory Board to the Emergency Support Fund for Key Populations Starts to Function

The Advisory Board to the Emergency Support Fund for Key Populations in Eastern Europe and Central Asia (EECA) starts to function. The Fund will support Eastern European and Central Asian registered and non-registered NGOs and CBOs that represent key populations and that are surviving in difficult situations which they face due to legal barriers for key populations, stigma and discrimination, financial and social challenges and political restrictions. The activities of the Fund are implemented by AFEW International and AIDSFonds and financed by the Elton John AIDS Foundation.

The Advisory Board will ensure genuine connection to the situation in the EECA and give a guidance provision on the economic, political and epidemiological developments in the countries of the region. The Board advises the operational team of the Emergency Fund on strategic development of the Emergency Support Fund. The funding decisions will be made by the operational team.

The Advisory Board consists of eight members of the EECA region (see the table below) representing expertise in the programming and advocacy for all key populations: people living with HIV, people using drugs, young people, LGBTQ and MSM, and sex-workers.

The Advisory Board will meet once a year in person. Regular conference calls will take place every three months to revise the progress, exchange updates on the situations in the countries of EECA and adjust the Emergency Grant Fund conditions if necessary, as part of the learning process.

The first meeting of the Advisory Board will take place on 26 November 2018 in Amsterdam. During this meeting, the members of the Board will profoundly review the Emergency Fund documentation and call for proposals, eligibility criteria, evaluation process and criteria, and look at the set of relevant emergency situations. They will also share the latest updates from the EECA region and agree on one-year planning for the Board.

Name
Organisation
Position
Vladimir Mayanovsky
ECUO/Eastern Europe
and CentralAsian
 network of PLWHIV
Member of the management board
Ilya Lapin
CCM of the GF grant in Russian Federation) http://rusaids.net/ru/
PLWHIV representative with the voting power
Grigory Vergus
International Treatment
preparedness
Coalition in EECA, ITPCru
Regional Coordinator
Vitaly Djuma
Eurasian Coalition on Male Health (ECOM)
Executive Director
Igor Gordon
Eurasian Harm Reduction Association EHRA
Programs team lead
Svitlana Moroz
Eurasian Women’s Network on AIDS
Head of the Board
Nurali Amanzholov
Association of legal entities Central Asian Association of People Living with HIV
CEO
Yana Panfilova
Adolescent’s network
Teenergizer
CEO & Founder

 

AFEW International Receives Grant from the Elton John AIDS Foundation

Sir Elton John during International AIDS Conference in Amsterdam

Author: Olesya Kravchuk, AFEW International

AFEW International received the Emergency Support Fund Manager grant from the Elton John AIDS Foundation. This news was announced during the 22nd International AIDS Conference in Amsterdam. AFEW has got this grant together with AIDSfonds.

Within this ‘Emergency Support Fund Manager” grant, AFEW will use its long-lasting expertise and history in grant-making and support to strengthen the capacity of Community Based Organisations (CBOs) and Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs) in Eastern Europe and Central Asia (EECA) to overcome emergencies and to become stronger organisations.

Louise van Deth, Director of AIDSfgonds

“We are very honoured to receive this grant that will last three years,” says the executive director of AFEW International Anke van Dam. “Access to the treatment in Eastern Europe and Central Asia is a crucial need, particularly for key populations most at risk and people living with HIV. Unfortunately, not more than 30% of people living with HIV have access to the treatment. Stock outs of anti-retroviral treatment (ART) do happen, and the Emergency Support Fund is a great means to avoid this.”

AFEW will disburse emergency grants to enable key populations CBOs and NGOs in Eastern Europe and Central Asia to survive emergency situations and to be prepared or avoid emergencies in the future. NGOs and CBOs often deal with emergency situations due to a restrictive legal environment for key populations at risk for HIV, stigma and discrimination of those groups and a limited space to operate as a CBO and NGO.