The EECA City Health Leadership Forum

On the 6 December 2019, the EECA City Health Leadership Forum will be organized in Kyiv, Ukraine, showcasing the results of the Fast Track HIV/TB Cities Project (2017-2019)

The Forum will focus on discussing the regional context, sharing successful HIV and Tuberculosis city response models and facilitating movement towards ending these diseases in Eastern European and Central Asian (EECA) cities. It will include a Mayors’ high-level panel discussion, presentations of successful city responses and innovation to fast-track cities to 90-90-90, which will feature the inclusion of key populations in the cities’ responses. The Forum will gather over 150 delegates from 20 countries of the EECA region, including 11 city Mayors.

The Fast-Track HIV/TB Cities Project

Launched on World AIDS Day 2014, the Fast-Track Cities initiative has grown to include more than 300 cities and municipalities that are committed to attain the UNAIDS 90-90-90 targets: 90% of all people living with HIV will know their HIV status; 90% of all people with diagnosed HIV infection will receive sustained antiretroviral therapy (ART); and 90% of all HIV-diagnosed people receiving sustained ART will achieve viral suppression.

Alliance for Public Health (Ukraine) together with AFEW International (The Netherlands), licit (Switzerland) and Stop TB Partnership under technical guidance of UNAIDS EECA office with funding of The Global Fund initiated the regional Fast-Track HIV/TB Cities Project. The project was implemented between 2017-2019 and developed efficient and sustainable city models of HIV/TB responses that would allow to reduce AIDS and TB mortalities in five project cities; Almaty (Kazakhstan), Balti (Moldova), Odesa (Ukraine), Sofia (Bulgary), and Tbilisi (Georgia).

Amsterdam was one of the first to sign the Paris Declaration in 2014 and has introduced a comprehensive health policy for key populations. AFEW International with expertise on increasing access to health services for HIV, TB and viral hepatitis for key populations, is well-connected to the Municipal Public Health Service and police in the Netherlands. This expertise was shared in two training courses and a study tour.

International best practice suggests that collaborative city level models have been most effective in reducing HIV and TB burdens. The first training series, ‘Collaboration between municipalities and civil society – models and realities’, were designed as an exchange and sharing of experience and best practices in successful models of municipality and NGO partnerships. Five integrated work meetings and counselling sessions with selected project city stakeholders from municipality, health and social sector, NGOs and key populations were conducted by licit and AFEW International and improved key populations’ service access through better collaboration between relevant city stakeholders – most importantly, between municipalities and NGOs.

The second training series on innovative municipality funding approaches planned exchanged and adapted such approaches and income generating activities. The training replicated successful practices in the project cities through learning from experiences in Amsterdam. During this training the best international practices of public-private partnerships at city level and private funding for key population programmes offered inspiration for the participants of the training.

During the study tour different partners of AFEW International shared models, experiences and activities that demonstrated successes and challenges in increasing access to health for key populations. Project partners from Almaty, Kyiv and Tbilisi were provided the opportunity to connect to civil servants and different health actors within the Netherlands and discuss initiatives to reach out to key populations to increase their quality of life. Furthermore, representatives of municipality, police and NGOs working with key populations elaborated on different forms of collaboration, to prove that the only way to eliminate HIV and TB is if municipality, police and NGOs work together.

 

 

I can change this world

The theme of the World AIDS Day 2019 is communities. Сommunities that make an invaluable contribution to the AIDS response. Communities of people living with HIV, key populations such as gay men and other men who have sex with men, people who use drugs, sex workers, transgender people, prisoners, and communities of women and young people are all encouraging and supporting the provision of HIV-related services. Communities are a source of vital energy for an effective AIDS response and an important pillar of that response.

Representatives of these communities are very different. Some of them are already on the front line, defending their rights every day, others are just beginning their journey towards important changes – for themselves and for society. On the World AIDS day AFEW International talked to them about their experiences and goals.

 

Konstantin Bushuyev, trans*activist, Russia

About the difficulties

At some point in my work on HIV prevention among transgender people, I was faced with some frustration. There were results. But they weren’t exactly the ones I wanted. And this work did not always find support in the trans* community itself. Studies I know from NGOs in Russia show that the topic of HIV for trans*people is not a priority. The first place is occupied by issues with hormone replacement therapy for those who need it, and general difficulties with safe access to qualified medical care. And the research that I took part in at the time showed that people who took part in the survey were very indifferent to the topic of HIV prevention, given their good knowledge of other health issues. For trans*people, in my opinion, the issues of HIV prevention and treatment are most closely related to health issues in general. Trans*people very often do not seek medical help until the last moment. Because they are afraid of inadequate response from doctors, transphobia. Because they are afraid of being outed. Because they are not ready to explain again who they are. And doctors themselves often do not know what to do with such a patient. And when it comes to HIV, all these fears double, because it is an additional stigma.

About success

For me, the main success now is that I have decided not to leave activism, despite the various circumstances that have almost already led to it. Burnout, that’s the thing…

About a reason to be proud

In Krasnodar, HIV prevention activities among LGBT people have been carried out by activists for a long time. But I am proud of the fact that my work helped to drawn attention to transgender people as a separate group with its own peculiarities and needs.


Evgeniya Korotkova, Board Member, Eurasian Women’s AIDS Network, HIV+, Uzbekistan

About gratitude

I am happy to be able to speak openly about my status because I feel the great support of my family, colleagues, activists, friends and women who have experienced HIV infection. After all, each of them has invested something so that I can now talk about HIV infection without fear, without pain or humiliation. Someone can do it right away, others need time.

About open conversation

Sometimes I talk about HIV because I have thousands of people behind me who are living with HIV and they are not ready to speak for themselves because of the stigma and discrimination in society. And for the voice of the community to be heard, you have to talk and sometimes even scream. Sometimes I talk about HIV for the public to break existing stereotypes about people living with HIV and motivate them to take responsibility for their own health and HIV testing. Sometimes I talk about HIV for PLHIV who have learned about their status, I share with them my positive experiences of living with HIV. Given my personal experience of having a child without HIV, I understand that this is a question that concerns every woman living with HIV personally and affects so many areas of a woman’s life, from self-esteem to an external social environment.

I care about women and HIV first because I am a woman, mother and wife who have gone through all the hardships of living with HIV. Secondly, it is important for me to involve women living with HIV in addressing women and HIV. We know our needs and requirements better, and what actions lead to the improvement of their quality of life. Thirdly, by helping to build women’s capacity to advance their rights and improve the national response to the needs of HIV-positive and vulnerable women, we could significantly reduce the spread of HIV among the entire population and increase support for children living with or affected by HIV.

About success

My colleagues and I initiated the submission of documents to the Ministry of Justice in order to obtain the legal status of the women’s organization “Positive Women” in Uzbekistan. I very much hope that in 2020 we will have more opportunities to lobby for the interests of our members at AIDS Centers in the field of expanding access to HIV treatment for women and children, improving the quality of medical services provided to reproductive health and combating violence against women.


Yevgeniy Yuldashev, peer navigator, ex-prisoner, Kyrgyzstan

About the challenge

As an ex-prisoner, I faced different barriers on my way.However, the biggest challenge for me was my release from places of confinement. When I tried to return to the society, the society demonstrated its resistance and did not accept me as a person. It was very important for me to regain self-confidence, overcome self-stigma and learn how to respond to discrimination.

After the release from prison, working in an NGO is the best option. Here people are more open and treat you like a normal person, which is a rare case in government institutions, for example. An important part of my way was my work, thanks to which I was able to help people from key populations and heal myself.

About a reason to be proud

Most of all I am proud of the fact that now I really start seeing myself as part of the society as I have completely quit injecting drugs and methadone. I am proud that I am married and can work in an NGO. A big achievement personally for me is having the freedom to openly say that I have seven records of criminal conviction, went to penal colonies four times and spent 12 years in places of confinement.

Besides, I am very happy that now government bodies start working on creating better conditions for people who are released from places of confinement. To a great extent, it is due to the fact that our community not only continues its fruitful work with civil society organizations, but also starts interacting with government agencies and probation departments.


Ildar Guzairov, Director of Karina NGO, HIV+, Kazakhstan

About the challenge

The biggest challenge in my life was to accept my status. Till the last moment, I did not believe that it could happen to me. Only when I found myself in a hospital and almost lost one of my eyes, I finally believed that HIV exists. At that moment, I was aware that there is life-long therapy, I read a lot about it, even though I rejected my status.

About stigma 

This year, I had some difficulties overcoming stigma in places of confinement, when I was arrested and convicted with no reason. First, I couldn’t explain to the policemen that I am sick and that I need treatment and ART. Then, when I managed to explain it to them, I was labelled as “AIDSy”, “black death”, “syph”, etc. I faced all kinds of psychological pressure, including people telling me that I was going to die. It lasted for about three months.

About how to cope

Information helped me to cope with my disease. I was able to show that I was not dying, vice versa I was feeling well and had good health, better than some others! Later I was even called in for questioning, where I was asked about HIV, routes of transmission, if it can be transmitted through air or hand-shaking, how it is treated, etc. Thus I could show that people living with HIV have strong spirit and are almost undefeatable. People shouldn’t play blame games with us as it can happen to anybody. In four months, all my charges were dropped and I was released from prison.

About a reason to be proud

Most of all, I am proud that our community has knowledge and many of us can protect our legal interests at the government level. I am happy that more and more PLWH adhere to treatment and that the government tries to help us. We have a law on HIV/AIDS, a law on probation. People in places of confinement have uninterrupted access to ART, though just last year detention centres could ignore the needs of PLWH.

About achievements

My peers and I organize self-help groups again. Before, we used to get together at my place, up to five people at a time, and today we have 35 or more people attending our groups. My activities really changed the world, the world inside me. Now I understand people, not only from the community, but also others, much better. Once I changed the world inside me, the outside world also changed its attitude to me and now it treats me better!


Andrey Radetskiy, LGBT activist and HIV expert, Ukraine

About the challenge

Probably the biggest challenge for me is that now it is not safe to have sex in Kyiv if you do not have a regular sexual partner. After PrEP became available, we see more sexual freedom, more ways to experiment in our community. That is why many of my friends and acquaintances started using drugs and engaging in chemsex. Back in the middle of 2017, it was difficult for us to find respondents for our first pilot chemsex study in Kyiv, but now finding respondents is not a problem anymore. If I say that every second person could take part is such study, it would not be an exaggeration. Now it is super easy to get an STI in our city, though there are still some problems with the treatment. For instance, to treat syphilis, apart from the standard antibiotic, one needs a couple of other medicines, which are hard to find at the Ukrainian pharmaceutical market as such medicines are mostly produced in Russia. Earlier, we used to have outbreaks of syphilis in spring, but now they happen all the time. Many guys do not notice any symptoms and engage in self-therapy – either as they are afraid of stigma from the side of doctors or as they do not realize how serious the consequences may be.

About activism

In the recent year, I delivered many lectures on sexual education and health in Kyiv-based universities for the students studying PR, marketing, journalism, medicine, psychology and social work.

Currently, I continue holding workshops, presentations, training for MSM, trans people, sex activists and all those interested in HIV/STIs. My training events are popular and demonstrate positive changes in public opinion on LGBT, in particular through raising people’s awareness on HIV/STIs.

Before July 2019, I was coordinating the project of the national information platform for MSM called GET TEST (ALLIANCE.GLOBAL NGO).

Thanks to a number of successful information campaigns, GET TEST became one of the main information portals on health for MSM in Ukraine with a possibility of fast online registration for testing and access to prevention services in 17 regions of Ukraine.

I think I can be proud of our successful information campaign “HIV Test is Easy”, for which we engaged some celebrities, opinion leaders and bloggers. We made a number of social videos, which have tens of thousands of views and receive positive feedback.

They were presented during a morning show at UA:PBC channel on the eve of the World AIDS Day. It was the first time for ALLIANCE.GLOBAL when a project aimed at MSM was publicly presented on TV.

At the same time, I think that my biggest personal achievement this year is that I started working in one of the most famous HIV/AIDS organizations in Ukraine – Elena Pinchuk Foundation, where I manage and coordinate the activities of our education centre – dialogue hub – organizing the work of its residents, developing sex education programs for youth and implementing a number of projects to increase the visibility of LGBT community (exhibitions of LGBT painters, social bullying theatres, Gender Studies talk show, etc.). Besides, in the hub I continue delivering lectures on how to reduce the risks related to chemsex and how to prevent STIs. In particular, I inform and consult MSM community members on PrEP. These lectures are attended by the representatives of our target groups, for whom such topics are most relevant.

About a reason to be proud

For the first time, LGBT agenda was brought up publicly in the Elena Pinchuk Foundation. Before, this organization did not work with this target group. For instance, in October I organized the Gender Studies talk show, with a famous TV host publicly interviewing a transgender woman, Anastasia Eva Domani. The audience of the dialogue hub was positively interested in the talk show.

However, the most significant achievement for the community of PLWH in Ukraine was cancellation of p. 3 of the Order of the Ministry of Health dated 2008, based on which people affected with HIV (B20-B24) did not have the right to adopt or take custody of children. It became possible thanks to the lawyer Vitaliy Matveyev, whom I provided with my expert support. Together we registered the PROJECTOR NGO, which will engage in human rights, advocacy and research activities. Besides, I have been consulting Vitaliy on dealing with the criminal cases against the members of key populations in terms of HIV/AIDS as well as LGBT. Currently, the lawyer makes preparations to defend clients who faced discrimination on the grounds of their sexual orientation or against whom hate crimes were committed.

The activities of PROJECTOR NGO will also be focused on organizing research studies aimed at analysing the behaviour patterns of the groups vulnerable to HIV/AIDS.

 


Konstantin, coach, 17, HIV+, Ukraine

About the challenge

The hardest challenge for me was losing a close friend of mine. I was in a lot of pain, I felt loneliness and I had nothing. But I coped with it. I don’t think that I could do that without the help of a psychologist at school. The specialist helped me to put everything in its place. I am very grateful to him.

About a reason to be proud

Activism has become a part of my life. I am proud of my activity in Teenergizer and everything I have done in such a short time. My role in the organization is to conduct and organize training. I think it’s important to involve new people in health care because many people still live with the notion that HIV is a sentence, that HIV positive person is necessarily a drug user. But if we look at HIV-positive teenagers, mostly we will not see this. But parents of HIV positive young people indeed had such problems.

 


Rahim, migrant, PWUD, Russia

About the challenge

The main and most difficult challenge for me is drugs. These drugs drag and eat you up, you live in them, breathe them…and there is nothing else around you. I had the strength to run away from them to the other side of the country. I am proud that I had the strength to do so, and I was able to give up my addiction to terrible substances. Now I am happy – I have a sunshine over me, I have home. I found an abandoned house where nobody lived for 5 years, made repairs, and now I have a house in Russia.

About openness

I talk about myself openly so everyone can see how difficult life can be sometimes. I want people who use drugs to be not afraid to talk about themselves. I guess I’m one of the first people in Russia who speaks with an open face about addiction when I’m in it. But I’m not afraid of that. If you don’t say anything, if you keep quiet, nothing will ever change. I live without a passport, without a homeland, without a flag, and I dream of living like a normal person.

About plans

Next year I’m planning to start farming, get chickens, ducks, goats and rams. I want me to have a home, a family, a wife I love. I really want “salts” to disappear from Russia, they kill people.

 

Science for action on HIV, TB, and viral hepatitis in EECA

On November 18-19, with the support of the Ministry of Health of the Republic of Kazakhstan, the first scientific workshop EECA INTERACT 2019 on HIV, tuberculosis, and hepatitis in Eastern Europe and Central Asia (EECA) was held in Almaty.

The international event was organized by the Amsterdam Institute for Global Health and Development (AIGHD), the Kazakh Scientific Center for Dermatology and Infectious Diseases of the Ministry of Health of the Republic of Kazakhstan, non-profit organizations AFEW Kazakhstan and AFEW International.

For two days, more than 100 researchers, representatives of communities and clinicians from Kazakhstan, Russia, Ukraine, Belarus, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Georgia and other countries shared their experiences, the latest scientific developments in the field of treatment of HIV, tuberculosis (TB), hepatitis in order to strengthen the scientific base and improve the situation in the region.

“AFEW has been working in the Eastern Europe and Central Asia region for about 20 years and constantly experiences a lack of data on the HIV, TB and viral hepatitis epidemics in the region, – says Anke van Dam, member of the international organizing committee of EECA INTERACT 2019; executive director of AFEW International. These data are needed to develop evidence-based policies and interventions. Through EECA INTERACT, AFEW strives to stimulate and facilitate research in the region. Also our goal is to foster new research interactions among leading investigators and those who represent the potential future scientific leadership for health care and research in the region and to build research and clinical capacity across EECA”.

EECA is the only region in the world where the HIV epidemic is still growing rapidly. UNAIDS estimates that as of 2018, about 1.7 million people in the Eastern Europe and Central Asia region are living with HIV. About 38,000 people died from AIDS in 2018.

Significant barriers to prevention and treatment services remain for people living with and affected by HIV, TB, and hepatitis across the region. For example, although the HIV epidemic in EECA is concentrated predominantly among key populations, particularly among people who inject drugs, coverage of harm-reduction and other prevention programs is insufficient to reduce new infections. The region urgently needs more effective strategies of prevention, treatment, and care and support that are tailored to the particular circumstances of individual countries.

“I hope EECA INTERACT will become an effective forum for discussion, the issues raised at scientific discussions, the exchange of experience, will allow us to put the necessary emphasis on the near and long-term prospects, and familiarize a wide circle of participants with new methods, developments and approaches on these issues. The abstracts will be appreciated, feedback will be established, the scientific community and the geography of further cooperation and investment will expand. This activity is necessary to achieve UNAIDS goals 90-90-90”, says Bauyrzhan Bayserkin, head of the local committee of the EECA INTERACT 2019 workshop; Doctor of Medical Sciences; Director of the Kazakh Scientific Center of Dermatology and Infectious Diseases of the Ministry of Health of the Republic of Kazakhstan.

EECA INTERACT 2019 took an innovative approach by bringing together experts in HIV, TB, and hepatitis to participate in the International Conference Committee developing the scientific program.

It included experts in the field of HIV, TB and hepatitis from around the world, including Michel Kazatchkine, UNAIDS Special Advisor on HIV, TB and Hepatitis in the EECA region; Catherine Hankins, professor, Deputy Director, Science at AIGHD, co-chair of the annual INTEREST conference; Alexey Alexandrov, head physician of the Minsk Regional Clinical Center “Psychiatry-Narcology”; Sergey Dvoryak, founder and senior scientist, UIPHP, professor at the department of social work, and many others.

EECA INTERACT will be an annual event and will be held in different countries of the EECA region to enable scientists from all countries to demonstrate their discoveries.

See more pictures here.

 

 

 

Good practices of intersectoral collaboration for HIV, tuberculosis and viral hepatitis

The WHO Regional Office for Europe is collecting examples of good practices of intersectoral collaboration for HIV, tuberculosis and viral hepatitis for publication in a dedicated compendium.

This compendium will include examples of actions undertaken by sectors outside the health sector, possibly (but not necessarily) in collaboration with the health sector. The practices should be aimed at improving the outcomes or the determinants of the HIV, tuberculosis and viral hepatitis epidemics, as encouraged by the UN Common Position on ending HIV, TB and viral hepatitis through intersectoral collaboration. They should also be accompanied by impact evaluations and credible monitoring mechanisms or research.

The above-mentioned UN Common Position was developed with an inclusive and consultative process to identify shared principles and key actionable areas within and beyond the health sector to address HIV, tuberculosis and viral hepatitis in Europe and central Asia. It was successfully launched at a side event to the UNGA in New York in November 2018 and subsequently distributed within UN system to all UN Resident Coordinators of the region.

The good practices must be submitted in either English or Russian using the form provided below. All submissions will be reviewed by the WHO Regional Office for Europe against the following criteria: relevance, sustainability, efficiency and ethical appropriateness. The authorship of each good practice will be highlighted in the compendium, which is expected to be published in 2020.

The deadline for submission is 18 November 2019. If you have any questions, please do not hesitate to contact daram@who.int. 

The Coordination Committee called on the Global Fund to support the fight against HIV epidemic in Russia

The Coordination Committee for the prevention and control of HIV/AIDS in Russian Federation, responsible for oversight and coordination of the implementation of the Global Fund grants in Russia, called on the Global Fund to allocate funding to support civil society organizations in their fight against HIV epidemic in Russia for the next three years.

2019 is the year of the replenishment for the Global Fund to Fight Aids, Tuberculosis and Malaria (Global Fund) and by the end of this year, based on the results of the replenishment, the Global Fund will make a decision on the allocations for the eligible countries to address HIV, TB and Malaria for the next 3-year period.

According to the 2019 Global Fund Eligibility List, the Russian Federation has met the requirement of two consecutive years of eligibility based on income classification and disease burden and is now eligible to receive an allocation of funding to support the HIV/AIDS response for the next 3 years. Since the Russian Federation is not on the OECD-DAC List of ODA recipients, according to the Global Fund’s Eligibility Policy, the Russian Federation may only be eligible for an allocation to support the HIV response efforts by non-governmental or civil society organizations and only if the country demonstrates barriers to providing funding for interventions for key populations, as supported by the country’s epidemiology.

According to the Global Fund’s Eligibility Policy, “the eligibility for funding under this provision will be assessed by the Secretariat as part of the decision-making process for allocations. As part of its assessment, the Secretariat, in consultation with UN and other partners as appropriate, will look at the overall human rights environment of the context with respect to key populations, and specifically whether there are laws or policies which influence practices and seriously limit and/or restrict the provision of evidence-informed interventions for such populations.”

It is a well-known fact that Eastern Europe and Central Asia (EECA) is the only region in the world where the HIV epidemic continues to grow , and Russia has been considered as the “driving force” of this regional growth. According to the UNAIDS 2018 Global AIDS Update, “the HIV epidemic in Eastern Europe and Central Asia has grown by 30% since 2010, reflecting insufficient political commitment and domestic investment in national AIDS responses across much of the region. Regional trends depend a great deal on progress in the Russian Federation, which is home to 70% of people living with HIV in the region. Outside of the Russian Federation, the rate of new HIV infections is stable.

 

 

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” 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.

“People PLUS” thanks for the help provided in 2017-2019 by HIV justice, GNP +, EWNA. Amendment to art. 157  was brought in  Criminal Code Belarus thanks financial and technical assistance from these organizations.

Thanks the Emergency Support Fund for Key Populations in Eastern Europe and Central Asia (EECA) People PLUS have implemented additional set of measures people living with HIV in Belarus will be able to avoid criminal prosecution.

EECA INTERACT is a step towards the development of unified community

Why is the Workshop EECA INTERACT so important for the EECA region?

Alexei Alexandrov, a member of the international committee of EECA INTERACT 2019, head of Minsk regional clinical centre “Psychiatry-narcology”.

EECA INTERACT can become a model for building regional and country interaction between young and experienced researchers, medical practitioners, employees of non-governmental organizations and members of community initiatives, as well as representatives of the government.

All these specialists are involved in solving the problems of HIV infection, tuberculosis and viral hepatitis, and also related problems of drug use, criminalization, prison health, stigma and human rights. The exchange of experience by specialists from EECA countries with similar situations on HIV, TB, Hep, drug use, the results of new studies and expert assessments will allow choosing the best solutions to change the situation and begin to really implement them.

For me, EECA INTERACT is not only a meeting with new colleagues and getting acquainted with the results of their work, discussing pressing issues, forming direct contacts to continue cooperation or a network of interaction. The seminar is a continuation of the efforts that we, experts of the EECA countries, are directing to respond to the HIV epidemic in the region, implementation of those innovations that have already been tested in the world and are evidence-based.

The workshop is a step towards the development of a unified scientific, expert and practical community of our countries, united by common tasks. Everyone can have their own vision of the situation, challenges and solutions, but only joint discussion and analysis will allow finding potential points of influence for success.

 

How would you rate the development of clinical and research networks in the EECA region today?

Sergii Dvoriak, a member of the international committee of EECA INTERACT 2019, M.D., D.Med.Sci, founder and senior scientist, UIPHP, professor at the department of social work, ALSRT.

In our region, a lot of problems are associated with the traditions and imperfections of medical education. For several years I conducted training seminars “Effective Treatment of Drug Dependence” in Salzburg (organized by the Open Society Foundation), where all participants, mainly doctors, were divided into 2 groups, the Russian-speaking from EECA and the English-speaking from Southeast Asia and Africa. People from EECA were educated in the “Soviet” system, the others – in the “Western”.

I noticed a very clear difference in the methods for solving clinical problems. People from EECA went into “philosophy” and the so-called pathogenetic way of thinking, and “Western” immediately appealed to existing protocols and standards, objective data, etc. I then realized that many of our specialists need to be retrained and they should focus on evidence-based methods, and not on general considerations and “clinical points of view.” For this, we need such meetings like EECA INTERACT, where these points can be emphasized. It is important also that decision-makers participate in such events.

In Ukraine over the past 10 years, significant progress has been made in the development of clinical and research links. To some extent, a solid research infrastructure has been created, several organizations were found which can not only participate in international collaborative projects but also independently carry out research and receive funding from donors such as National Institutes of Health, CDC, WHO etc. Unfortunately, national donors are still very sparingly involved in this process.

Ministry of Health also does not understand enough how important the systematic and continuous process of conducting scientific research is, and the importance of implementation projects is underestimated.

Officials believe that only mainly state institutions have the right to make scientific research. They expect global discoveries or creation of new vaccines, effective drugs, but they do not really understand that in the modern world only a limited number of countries and companies are able to take such steps. There are no such resources in EECA countries, but this does not mean that research is not needed. Doctors should be involved in scientific projects as much as possible, because this disciplines clinical thinking, makes it possible to get acquainted with the modern scientific context.

 

 

 

 

Death caused by disregard of the human rights

Author: Nikolay Borisov, www.kommersant.ru

Human rights activists call the Russian State Duma to introduce urgent amendments to the current laws regulating the stay of people with HIV, tuberculosis and other severe diseases in places of confinement. This is the conclusion of the study initiated by the Risk Group Project aimed at the protection of rights of such inmates.

Addressing the Federal Penitentiary Service of Russia, project activists ask to ensure that health departments are not subordinated to the administration of correctional facilities and pre-trial detention centers, to prohibit admission of the inmates with severe health conditions to punitive isolation wards and not to hinder the activities of public inspectors. The activists point out that 7% of all people living with HIV in Russia stay in places of confinement, that is why improving the situation of inmates living with HIV could have a positive effect on the response to HIV in the country in general.

The Risk Group project targeted at the protection of rights of inmates with HIV, tuberculosis, syphilis and other infectious diseases in the Russian penitentiary institutions is implemented by the Rus Sidyashchaya NGO with support of the Emergency Support Fund for Key Populations in EECA.

According to the Federal Penitentiary Service of Russia, in 2014-2017, 32% of deaths among inmates were caused by HIV.

Thus, today HIV is the most widespread cause of death in places of confinement. To illustrate this situation, project participants tell the story of D (told by his lawyer, Maria Eismont): when D was admitted to the pre-trial detention center, he tested positive for HIV, but was not informed about the test result. That is why he failed to receive antiretroviral treatment and learned about his diagnosis only a year after. By court decision, D was released from further imprisonment with a diagnosis “advanced stage of AIDS.” “In fact, he was released to die,” comment representatives of Rus Sidyashchaya NGO. “This case also demonstrates that administrators of the penitentiary facilities release people with severe health conditions not to benefit such people but to improve their own statistics.”

After reviewing the cases of inmates with HIV and tuberculosis, human rights activists say that managers of pre-trial detention centers and correctional facilities do not use the opportunities to release such inmates from punishment when it is necessary: “Though there is a list of severe health conditions that hinder further service of punishment, members of relevant medical commissions often fail to disclose the real diagnoses of such inmates.” Project activists even found some pre-trial detention centers where such medical commissions did not exist at all. Thus, in December 2018 Olga Vekovshinina, member of the Sverdlovsk Regional Public Oversight Committee found a severely ill inmate B in Correctional Medical Facility N51: “He had respiratory failure, his skin was dry and pale, he had emaciation and was not able to speak, he could hardly whisper words as all his oral cavity, oesophagus and respiratory tract were covered with fungus.” An application for release was submitted to Nizhny Tagil court straight away, but the man died: “His death was caused by disregard of his rights, which led to the disregard of his severe health condition.”

Rus Sidyashchaya NGO questions accuracy of the reports prepared by the Federal Penitentiary Service of Russia and stating that in the recent five years the number of deaths among Russian inmates due to health conditions decreased by 33%, in particular due to tuberculosis — by 38.6%, due to HIV — by 24.2%. “Such a sharp decline of death rate may be a result of manipulations with statistics rather that provision of proper treatment to the inmates,” says Aleksey Fedyarov, Head of the Legal Department at the NGO. “Often to ensure such a “mortality reduction effect” correctional facilities take all possible measures to urgently release incurable patients, who die soon after leaving the institutions, which allows to improve the death rate statistics in such penitentiary facilities.”

Human rights activists point out that the cornerstone of the human rights violations in places of confinement is lack of public control:

“Correctional facilities and pre-trial detention centers use their status of closed settings and hide the facts of human rights violations. If we have public control, very unpleasant stories will emerge.”

Based on the study, the Risk Group Project activists make a number of conclusions. First of all, they call to ensure that health departments are not subordinated to the administration of penal colonies and pre-trial detention centers and prohibit admission of the inmates with severe health conditions to punitive isolation wards. “Medical departments of pre-trial detention centers and correctional facilities do not recognize the diagnoses established by the “outside” doctors,” underline human rights activists. “Unless the diagnosis is confirmed by medical department of the facility, the patient is not able to receive the required treatment. As the repeated diagnostics may take weeks or even months, it leads to the aggravation of the patient’s health state, and in case of HIV — to the development of opportunistic infections.”

During the writing of this article, Kommersant did not manage to get a comment about this situation from the penitentiary service. Vasiliy Makiyekno, retired colonel of the Federal Penitentiary Service of Russia says that correctional facilities are often located in remote areas and it is difficult for civil doctors to get there: “It is too expensive to bring people, organize transport, so sick inmates do not have access to emergency care.” He also said that before being placed to a punitive isolation cell, inmates are examined by a doctor, who would not allow placing a sick person there. “Formally, health workers are not subordinated to the administrators of correctional institutions,” says the expert. “Of course, often there are some informal relations, but if an inmate dies in such an isolation cell, the doctor will have a tough time. He may face not only disqualification or dismissal, but also a criminal case.” “In general, oversight is ensured by the prosecutor’s office. There is also internal control: if there are any problems in the facility, sooner or later they cause an explosion,” says Vasiliy Makiyekno, adding that public oversight requires high qualification of the oversight commission members.

“Taking into consideration the work done, we call the deputies of the State Duma to make relevant amendments to the Federal Law “On public control of human rights in places of detention and assistance to persons in places of detention” and to the Criminal Procedure Code,” summed up Aleksey Fedyarov. “We need to get the message that there is such a need across to the deputies.”

The source of the material – https://www.kommersant.ru/doc/4038943

Newspaper Kommersant N127 dd. 22.07.2019, p. 5

Why do researchers need to participate in the EECA INTERACT 2019 workshop?

Bauyrzhan Satzhanovich Bayserkin, head of the local committee of EECA INTERACT 2019 workshop; Doctor of Medical Sciences, Director of the Kazakh Scientific Center of Dermatology and Infectious Diseases (Kazakhstan) talks why researchers should participate in the EECA INTERACT 2019 workshop.

What do EECA researchers need today? First of all, it is the intensification of scientific discussions, improving the quality and effectiveness of research results, the exchange of experience, also with practitioners, as well as the timely tracking of new methods, developments in medicine and related disciplines.

It is assumed that the participant’s research work will be tested at the seminar; scientists, colleagues, and practitioners will discuss it and give their feedback, the network of the participant will expand. Researchers can get a job in the future, they can count on mutual assistance in research activities, communication with more experienced conference participants from other countries.

Also, within the framework of the seminar, specialists participating in the conference will ask colleagues some questions about the abstracts that need to be discussed. Such work will indicate inaccurate formulations or incorrect accents, demonstrate “white spots” in activities, and establish a discussion. Discussions and questions will indicate the relevance of the topic. All these things together will contribute to the personal and professional growth of the participants. Also, participants will have the opportunity to expand the geography of their publications, citation index, etc.

In addition, representatives of third-party organizations that will attend the workshop may be interested in further cooperation, investment, etc.

All this will contribute to the improvement and strengthening of the healthcare system and civil society.

More about the workshop read here

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