World AIDS Day 2017 – message of Anke van Dam

World AIDS Day 2017: message of AFEW International Executive Director Anke van Dam

Let us stand still on this World AIDS Day at all the brave people living with HIV that fight for their right to health. Let us think about those living in Eastern Europe and Central Asia (EECA), where only 28% of people with the diagnosis HIV have access to ARV treatment, and less than a quarter have a zero viral load. Where the majority of people at a higher risk for HIV face stigma and discrimination. Where the costs for some generic ARVs are higher than the patented ones. Where funds for prevention, treatment and care are diminishing with the years.

AFEW International Executive Director Anke van Dam

In a world where we know how to prevent HIV, how to stop AIDS, how to treat with optimal care, we should not allow that people die of AIDS, nowhere and also not in Eastern Europe and Central Asia.

It is therefore not for nothing that AIDS2018, the 22nd International AIDS Conference in Amsterdam on 23 – 27 July 2017, has a focus on the public health concerns as HIV, TB and viral hepatitis in this specific EECA region. Next year summer, we have more than ever an opportunity to address the challenges and the obstacles in policies, political and health care systems. With the relevant stakeholders in one spot, we have an excellent chance to facilitate dialogue between communities, political leaders and donors for better access to treatment and for sustainable financial mechanisms.

AFEW is working for more than 16 years in Eastern Europe and Central Asia to improve access to health care for people who use drugs, prisoners, sex workers, LGBT and young people. From our experience and collaboration in EECA we can tell what is needed. We as AFEW with all other hard-working networks, NGOs and CBOS from the region will demonstrate our expertise, drive, motivation and willingness to curb the HIV epidemic and our wish for a healthy future for all, including the people in Eastern Europe and Central Asia.

On the Barricades of Harm Reduction in Georgia

Author: Irma Kakhurashvili, Georgia

In Georgia, there are not many organisations working with people who use drugs to improve their health and re-integrate them into the society. New Vector is the first self-organisation of drug users not only in Georgia, but also in the South Caucasus. Since 2006, its activists openly oppose the repressive drug policy, fight for the rights of people who use drugs (PWUD), and search for the innovative approaches to resolve health problems. The main goal of the New Vector is to provide harm reduction services and advocate for the health and social programmes, which are vital for people who use drugs.

In the organisation, drug users are offered free fibroscan liver tests and dentist’s services. Besides, workshops for community members are often held. Every Friday is a woman’s day. Female drug users attend sewing and needlework classes. Since 2016, the organisation also actively provides new services – with mobile clinics, activists and social workers of the organisation test drug users and general population for hepatitis C and HIV both in the capital of Georgia and in the regions.

Staying until the issues are resolved

The New Vector takes part in reforming and humanizing the national drug policy. Several years ago, the Georgian Network of People Who Use Drugs (GeNPUD) was founded at the initiative of the organisation. Through the joint efforts of GeNPUD, different NGOs and activists, amendments were introduced in the law requiring health personnel to call police in case of an overdose. Besides, GeNPUD carried out advocacy activities to exercise the right of drug users to refuse compulsory testing in drug departments of the police granted by article 42 of the Constitution. As a result of the campaigns initiated by the activists of GeNPUD and New Vector, the state ensured access to high-cost new-generation drugs for Hepatitis C treatment in Georgia.

The New Vector holds its position of the leading organisation in the provision of social and prevention services in the area of harm reduction.

“As for HIV/AIDS prevention, for many years we have been implementing harm reduction programmes – syringe and needle exchange. Every day, our social workers go “in the field” and offer sterile syringes and other supplies to people who use drugs. As far as I know, currently there are 6,564 cases of HIV registered in Georgia, with people who inject drugs accounting for 43.2% of such cases,” the head of the New Vector Koka Labartkava is saying. “Last year, when conducting testing in the New Vector we detected 10 cases of HIV, this year we recorded seven cases. If a client has HIV, our social workers assist him in finding specialists and programmes to solve his problems. We stay with our clients until their issues are resolved. In addition to the mobile clinics, drug users can also get tested for HIV, hepatitis and syphilis in our laboratory, right here in the office.”

Problem detected first step to the solution

The Project “Supporting patients with drug-resistant tuberculosis, taking measures to improve treatment” implemented in five regions of Georgia will be operating as a pilot for 10 months. The Project was launched on 1 July 2017 and, if it proves to be successful, it will be expanded all over the country. The project management team conducted preparatory activities in five cities of Georgia: Tbilisi, Rustavi, Gori, Kutaisi, and Batumi. Multidisciplinary teams have already been formed to include a social worker, a peer consultant and a psychologist. Altogether, six groups have been created, and two of them are in Tbilisi.

The support team (a social worker, a psychologist and a peer consultant) offer individual and group psychosocial counselling, assistance in solving social problems, psychological and legal consultations, counselling and testing for hepatitis B and C, HIV and syphilis.

In September and October this year, the Georgian Network of People who Use Drugs organized information and advocacy sessions for people who use drugs, including those who have HIV and tuberculosis, as well as for different civil society organisations.

The aim of such sessions was to assist the community in defining the challenges and the barriers in terms of access to HIV/AIDS and TB treatment and prevention programmes and in terms of their quality. The sessions allowed defining the gaps at local, national and international levels. Action plans and advocacy tools will soon be defined in relation to each of the gaps.

The New Vector has close partner relations with Tanadgoma within the Task Force City project, stipulating allocation of municipal budget funds for the implementation of HIV/AIDS and tuberculosis prevention programmes. One of the conditions to ensure the effective distribution of resources and developing a municipal public health strategy is for the Mayor of Tbilisi to sign the Paris Declaration‑2014.

People Living with HIV Can Live Longer

Brussels, 29 November 2017 – Experts unveiled a set of recommendations to address health problems facing people living with HIV. Treatments are helping people with HIV live long lives, but they face higher risk than others of serious illnesses – from cancer to heart disease to depression.

As people living with HIV require access to a range of health services beyond just their HIV treatment, a coordinated and personalised approach to long-term HIV care is needed, according to the HIV Outcome recommendations, which were unveiled at an event at the European Parliament.

“There is huge room for improvement” said Nikos Dedes, Chair of the European AIDS Treatment Group (EATG) and Co-Chair of the HIV Outcomes Steering Group. “It is great that people living with HIV can live nearly as long as anyone else these days because of new treatments, but there are complicated health problems that are being ignored. The HIV Outcomes initiative has put together a list of suggestions that has the potential to improve the lives of Europeans who live with HIV.”

In a timely reminder ahead of World AIDS Day on Friday, 1 December, the HIV Outcomes initiative highlights that the advent of modern antiretroviral therapies (ART) has transformed the lives of people living with HIV. For those diagnosed and treated early, it is now a chronic, rather than a fatal, condition. However, this is no guarantee of good health outcomes or quality of life; further effort is needed to develop effective, lifelong approaches to the long-term treatment and care of people living with HIV.

To address these needs, the HIV Outcomes initiative has engaged in a year-long multi-stakeholder process to develop a series of five detailed policy recommendations. These call for an integrated and patient-centred approach to long-term HIV care, which should include services for the prevention, treatment and management of other health conditions (comorbidities), services for mental health conditions, personalised care plans, and advice and support on sexual and reproductive health. Other recommendations call for monitoring of how health systems currently respond to the long-term health challenges faced by people living with HIV as well as efforts to combat stigma and discrimination within health systems.

Recommendations

  1. Adopt an integrated, outcomes-focused, and patient-centred approach to long-term care.

  2. Expand national monitoring of long-term care and outcomes.

  3. Fund studies to provide information on the long-term health of people living with HIV.

  4. Combat stigma and discrimination within health systems.

  5. Upscale involvement of the HIV community in priority setting at country level.

The next step is to ‘road test’ the recommendations at national level in two countries – Italy and Sweden – during 2018. Both have already demonstrated their commitment to people living with HIV; Italy has published a ‘White Book’ on the chronic care model for HIV, while Sweden is the first country to achieve the UNAIDs ‘90-90-90’ targets.The three Member of the European Parliament (MEPs) supporting the event meeting, Christofer Fjellner (European People’s Party, EPP), Eva Kaili (Socialists and Democrats, S&D) and Gesine Meissner (Alliance for Liberals and Democrats in Europe, ALDE), agreed, “Having addressed the issue of longevity, society now needs to help people with HIV to retain good health and lead rewarding lives. As representatives of the European Parliament’s leading political groups, we fully support the aims of this initiative.

The learnings and best practice generated on a national level will ultimately be reported at a future event in the European Parliament in 2018 and should provide further refinements to efforts to improve the long-term health outcomes and quality of life of people living with HIV. It is time to expand our ambitions for the health and well-being of people living with HIV beyond just viral suppression.

HIV/AIDS Surveillance in Europe 2017-2016 Data Released

On 1st of December, we mark World AIDS Day (WAD) to raise awareness about HIV and its impact on individuals and societies around the globe. WAD 2017 in the WHO European Region will focus on the problem of late HIV diagnosis – the high number of people who are diagnosed with HIV at a late stage of infection with consequences for individuals’ health and survival, and for the community where HIV can transmit further.

With this message, we invite you to join us and mark the World Aids Day 2017 in your country.

On 28 November 2017, WHO/Europe and ECDC jointly released the annual report on HIV/AIDS surveillance Europe, containing the latest available surveillance data.

Similar to recent years, the highest proportion of HIV diagnoses (40%) was reported to be in men who have sex with men (MSM). However, for the first time in a number of years, several countries reported a decline in new HIV diagnoses, even after adjusting for reporting delay.

While the data in this year’s report indicate alarming rates and increases in new diagnoses in some parts of eastern and central Europe over the last decade, at the same time there has been a tendency towards stabilising or even decreasing rates in some EU/EEA countries.

Trends by transmission mode, for example, show that the number of HIV diagnoses among MSM in the EU/EEA decreased slightly in 2016 and the number of heterosexually acquired cases has decreased steadily over the last decade.

Moreover, in the EU/EEA, the number of AIDS cases, and the number of AIDS-related deaths, has consistently declined since the mid-1990s.

The report on HIV/AIDS surveillance in Europe 2017 – 2016 data is available here.

Civil Society Letter to Support the Position of Prof M. Kazatchkine as UN special Envoy on HIV/AIDS for Eastern Europe and Central Asia

To the United Nations Secretary-General Mr Antonio Guterres

Amsterdam, 30 November 2017

Re: Civil Society letter to support the position of Prof M. Kazatchkine as UN special envoy on HIV/AIDS for Eastern Europe and Central Asia dd 23 June 2017

Your excellency Mr Guterres,

With this letter, we – undersigned civil society organizations – call on you to reinstate the position of Prof. Michel Kazatchkine as your Special Envoy on HIV/AIDS in Eastern Europe and Central Asia (EECA).

In 2018, the International AIDS Conference will take place in Amsterdam, the Netherlands. The largest health conference in the world will have a special focus on Eastern-Europe and Central Asia, a region in which the HIV/AIDS, TB and viral hepatitis epidemics are out of control. This development concerns us deeply:

• The annual number of new HIV infections in Eastern Europe and Central Asia increased with 60% between 2010 and 2016;
• From all regions in the world, the EECA region is furthest away from reaching the UNAIDS 90-90-90 targets by 2020. Treatment coverage remains alarmingly low (28%), and less than a quarter of people living with HIV had suppressed viral loads (end-2016);
• Specific populations, such as men who have sex with men, drug users and sex workers face specific human rights violations, impeding their access to prevention and health services.

Despite these alarming developments, donors and multilateral institutions are pulling out of the region. Achieving the SDGs on health and the promise to leave no one behind is therefore still far away in the EECA region.

Prof. Michel Kazatchkine has played a key role in highlighting the region to institutions as UN Special Envoy on HIV/AIDS in Eastern Europe and Central Asia. He played a crucial role in mobilizing local authorities, (inter)national civil society, donors, researchers and other relevant groups to come to better outcomes to the UNAIDS indicators as we see now. As a result, he enjoys great support from communities in the region.

In our letter of 23 June 2017, we asked to continue the position of Prof. Michel Kazatchkine as your Special Envoy on HIV/AIDS in Eastern Europe and Central Asia. We express our disappointment about not having received a response yet. At the same time, we understand that Mr Eric Goosby continues as UN special envoy on TB, due to the important UN High Level meeting on TB in September 2018.

The AIDS 2018 conference in July 2018 will be a key moment for the region and for the world as well. The Dutch government acknowledges the issues and has prioritized the region for the conference. We applaud their leadership as this is the moment to bring political leaders, policy makers, scientists, clinicians and community leaders together and draw attention to the urgent need to next steps.

We strongly urge you to reinstate the position of Prof. Michel Kazatchkine as your Special Envoy for Eastern Europe and Central Asia, or at the very least use your influence to ensure that Prof Kazatchkine may continue his work at UN level, as he is in an excellent position next year to create a momentum to raise awareness on the disruptive situation the epidemics has caused in the region.

Yours sincerely,

Anke van Dam,
AFEW International

Please, support this letter by signing it before 30 November 2017 5pm CeT. You can sign this letter here

The First AFEW Regional Autumn School Was Conducted in Kazakhstan

Author: Marina Maximova, Kazakhstan

Representatives of 10 countries took part in the first regional autumn school organized by AFEW, which was held from 30 October to 5 November in the Oy-Karagay gorge, not far from Almaty, Kazakhstan. The school was conducted with the support of the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

High mountains, hot sun, picturesque autumn landscapes, atmosphere of the national yurt instead of the traditional training hall – combined with the team spirit and expectations of positive changes – contributed to the creative atmosphere of the event. The school participants included representatives of the AFEW network from Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, the Netherlands, Tajikistan, Ukraine, sub-grantees of the project ‘Bridging the Gaps: Health and Rights for Key Populations,’ and partner organizations. Such allies and friends are the biggest guarantee of success.

Learning to bridge the gaps

“The autumn school helps to find the answers to a range of questions and get acquainted with the new innovative practices in working with key populations,” says Dilshod Pulatov, Project Manager, ‘Bridging the Gaps’ programme, AFEW-Tajikistan.

He presented the results of the social study to assess the level of labour migration among people who use drugs. It was conducted for 18 months in Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan. The study, which covered 600 respondents, demonstrated regional trends and showed interesting results. The main of them is that the labour migrants who use drugs do not know where they can get help and who can offer such help. In both countries, the respondents pointed out that as labour migrants they experienced problems with access to health and social services.

The results of this research study will help AFEW to scale up the access of drug users to quality HIV prevention, treatment, care, and support services and find new partners. Partnerships were created right at the discussion platform. This study proved to be interesting not only to the participants, but also to the guests invited to take part in the autumn school, including representatives of the Project HOPE in Kazakhstan.

Platform for discussion and activism

Today, ‘Bridging the Gaps’ programme is implemented by the organizations from four countries of the region. The autumn school became a platform to discuss strategies, barriers, innovations, and opportunities for cooperation.

“In our country, the biggest gap is an access of underage people who use drugs (PUD) to services. Many services are offered to adult PUD, in particular with support of the international donors. It allows them getting qualified help. At the same time, people often forget that the first experience of drug use happens under the age of 18,” tells Anastasia Shebardina, Project Manager, AFEW-Ukraine.

The project made an important contribution for radically changing the situation: it opened the only rehab centre for drug dependent adolescents in Chernivtsi and supported four civil society organizations.

In each country, there are success stories, which became possible thanks to the project implementation. So far, these are just tiny steps forward in the big scope of the existing problems. Every such step became possible thanks to project staff and activists working hard for a long time, but such victories, even if they are small, enhance personal motivation of people and allow them to set bigger goals.

“One of our achievements is developing the standards of services for PUD serving sentences in the Georgian prisons. We educate prison staff and have drafted a special training module for this purpose. In some organizations, support groups for PUD are already functioning. Rehab centre Help has opened its doors to clients. Now 12 people can stay there and get qualified help. We plan to cover all correctional facilities in the country with our activities,” shares his plans Vazha Kasrelishvili, Project Coordinator of the NGO Tanadgoma.

From knowledge sharing to new rehabilitation models

Sharing knowledge and best practices is one of the goals of the autumn school. Together, it is easier to elaborate strategies and innovative approaches, considering that the tendencies in development of the situation in the region are similar. Today, the search to fund vital projects also requires joint efforts, taking into account the reduction of the funding received from the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria and other donors in the region. So far, national governments are not ready to take over this financial burden in full scope. Despite their broad fundraising efforts, civil society organizations do not have enough grant funds aimed at scaling up access to services for key populations.

“With the support of the Ministry of Health of the Kyrgyz Republic, within our project we developed two clinical guidelines: on managing pregnancy, delivery and postnatal period of female PUD and on mental health and behaviour disorders in children and adolescents caused by the use of new psychoactive substances. We were able to open a social office for women with HIV, which offers counselling of psychologists and peer consultants. In the country, there are two rehab centres for women with HIV and drug dependence, which cooperate with friendly clinics,” tells Natalya Shumskaya, the head of the AIDS Foundation East-West in the Kyrgyz Republic.

Today, there is a need to use new, more effective rehabilitation models. This idea has been supported by all participants of the autumn school. Such models should be aimed at developing inner strength – empowerment – of each of the members of key populations.

“Maybe now it is time to change and expand our understanding of the rehabilitation concept. It is not only detox and psychology. There should be equal opportunities, in particular based on harm reduction, to accept yourself,” points out Anna Sarang, President of Andrey Rylkov Foundation, Russia.

Preparations to AIDS 2018

Participants of the autumn school also discussed preparations to the 22nd International AIDS Conference (AIDS 2018) in Amsterdam, the Netherlands – the main event of the next year for activists of the AIDS organizations. All countries of the Eastern Europe and Central Asia are already actively preparing for the conference. How can decision makers be involved into this crucial event? What channels are most effective in communicating information about the conference? How to make this event significant? Every day, participants of the autumn school discussed these and other questions. Besides, they learned how to write abstracts for the conference and choose catchy titles for them.

It is very important that the participants developed some new ideas, concepts and thoughts, because starting from 1 December 2017 registration for AIDS 2018 will be open. It will be a new and diverse platform for discussions making decisions significant for all countries and communities.

HIV Test: the Work of Mobile Clinic in Kyiv

Tatiana shows a card of the recipient of services from Eney

Author: Yana Kazmyrenko, Ukraine

We have spent one day with the mobile clinic in Kyiv, Ukraine, that provides HIV testing for people who inject drugs. The social worker Tatiana quit using drugs and has now been diagnosing five HIV cases monthly.

Tatiana Martynyuk (54 years old) visits up to 10 apartments every day, and at least five of her clients each month turn out to be HIV positive. She works at a mobile clinic of the Eney Club in Kyiv, where she anonymously detects HIV and hepatitis C. The project has been supported by ICF Public Health Alliance for more than ten years. There are five mobile teams from the organization in Kyiv and one team always works night shifts in order to cover the sex workers’ testing.

Eney has a large base of volunteers. These people actively use drugs. They offer their friends and acquaintances to pass HIV testing which only takes 15 minutes. If the test is positive, they persuade a person to go to the City AIDS Centre and register there. Not everybody agrees, half of them reject saying that nothing is hurting, and they will not go anywhere.

We have the meeting on Shevchenko Square, the northern outskirts of Kyiv. Our first clients live not so far away. Tatiana brings them HIV tests, alcohol wipes and condoms.

Boiling shirka

Irina shows a drop of blood during testing

Sergey and Irina are meeting us in their one bedroom apartment, where everything is filled up with their belongings. The owners have been planning to renew the closet for several years already, but they have no money and energy for that. Irina, 43 years old, takes the test first. She is already receiving services from Eney.

“I tried drugs two years ago and I liked it,” she is saying, hiding her cracked hands. Ira has been working as a dishwasher, but currently she has no income as the restaurant is being closed.

The woman is getting nervous and takes a cigarette from Tania. The social worker asks Ira to do the test on her own so that she can do the test without any help in case of emergency. A drop of blood, four drops of the special liquid, and a long ten-minute waiting during which Tatiana has the time to ask what Ira knows about HIV.

“The most important thing: HIV can be in shirka (the popular name for one of the most commonly injected opiate derivates,) where a syringe was put for just a second. If in doubt – boil shirka,” Tatiana is instructing, asking other people to leave the kitchen. The HIV test result is strictly confidential.

Ira is satisfied with the test results, and she is going to wash the dishes. The 33-year-old Sergey is sitting at the table. It was he who “tricked” his female partner into trying drugs. He has been using drugs for 10 years.

Our client is not interested in getting the information about HIV: he is arguing, and saying that you can get HIV while visiting a dentist. Tatiana changes the subject and asks him to invite his friends for the check. Initially, three more people were willing to take the test, but at the end, only 28-year-old Artem came in. He has a rich biography, which includes a 10-year record of drug usage and imprisonment.

“If I want – I will take the drug. If I decide to quit it – I will quit it. I am not in the system. I earn 18,000 hryvnia (about 600 euros) on repairs and construction sites. I can do everything,” he boasts while lighting up a cigarette.

Receiving assistance from their peers

Vladimir’s wife, Inna, waiting for test results

While we are driving, Tatyana keeps telling her story: she has been injecting drugs for 25 years, and then she quit. She was tired and wanted to change her life. Her husband died, her son was drinking alcohol, and her mother is sick. At first, she found work as a street sweeper, but then she settled in Eney Club.

“I get more tired at this job than when I was sweeping the streets. Everyone needs to talk and to be heard, I need to organize things. I am not judging anyone. These people will only accept a help from a person like they are,” she shares.

It seems that with each visit to the next apartment, Tatiana challenges her willpower. She could possibly get her dose of drugs in any such place. Nevertheless, she is holding on. In her situation, one needs to have a special talent in order not to lose the spirit and to do the work with all your heart.

Needle veteran

Vladimir is having a holiday in his apartment in Obolonsky Lipky, the elite district in Kyiv. His prison sentence for the distribution and transportation of drugs has been changed into the conditional one. This was the fourth prison sentence for the 54-year old Kyiv citizen.

Tatiana helps Vladimir with a test

“I have been injecting drugs for 35 years now. I wonder how I survived. Everybody with who I started, is already dead. I prepare everything myself as I know all the recipes. I have studied the 1938 medical military handbook,” Vladimir is saying.

“Vova, you are such a fine fellow,” admires Tanya. The toothless Vova smiles and invites us to see his bathroom, where he has recently changed the tiles.

Vladimir takes the test and tells that he is going to get tooth implants and will start taking care of his health.

“I would not survive without drugs. I got all possible strains of hepatitis and in this way, I keep myself in shape,” he explains.

Vladimir’s elder brother is 59. He has been trying to quit drugs after a stroke. He smells of alcohol – he has been drinking vodka.

“That is how life used to be. In the 90s you would make a whole basin of shirka and you treat the whole district, but times changed and shirka is not the same anymore. We had loads of heroin,” he recalls with nostalgia.

The wives of the two brothers, Inna and Irina, also use drugs. During the test, Inna tells Tatiana to hurry up. She did not have time for injecting the dose, and now she cannot wait to get it.

Improving personal life

“Can you imagine this? I woke up in the morning and noticed that I lost my tooth and ate it in my sleep,” Marta is saying. She works as a hairdresser and has colorful hair.

Marta has been using drugs since she was 12. She says that drugs in Kyiv in the 80s were an element of prestige like a cherry VAZ 2109 (car model.) There was a seven-year break in her history. She started using drugs all over again when she had found out that her first love was HIV positive.

“He died, and I went crazy. In general, I cannot live without injecting. It is an addiction,” she explains.

Marta tries to take the test once a year, and she is going to improve her personal life.

“Tania, please, give me more condoms. My friends have been searching for a fiancée for me. I imagine him taking drugs, but not being a goner; I want him to have an apartment, as I would like to give birth to a child,” she continues.

Tania asks Marta to take her friend for the testing next time. A woman with a dark hair bandage is nervously waiting for her friend. She has recently become a widow, her husband died because of an overdose.

The social base of drug users is expanding

After the test, Tatyana immediately agrees to meet with the next client

After three visits, the social worker is tired, but there are still some addresses from the other side of the city.

“Our program helps them to be safe and control their health. I would also like to add some food arrangements – some of them do not have any food for weeks,” Tania is saying.

The harm reduction program among people who inject drugs in Eney Club started in 2001. The annual coverage was more than 6000 people in 2016. Out of these number, 80% of people have been tested for HIV. Now, the average level of HIV detection among clients is 3.5%, where 80% of people have been placed on dispensary records. The level of drug usage has been growing in Kyiv. There appeared separate subgroups among the people who use drugs. Veterans of the Donbas conflict and immigrants from the Eastern Ukraine form such subgroups.

AIDS 2018: Preparing for Registration and Submitting Abstracts

Author: Anna Tokar, Ukraine

The registration for the 22nd International AIDS Conference (AIDS 2018) will symbolically start on December 1 – the World AIDS Day. The conference will gather scientists, political leaders, and people living with HIV from all around the world. One of the key objectives of AIDS 2018 is to spotlight the state of the epidemic and the HIV response in Eastern Europe and Central Asia with a focus on investments, structural determinants and services.

You can already start preparing for the registration for the Conference. Below you can find some important tips:

  • You will be asked to create your personal account – a webpage at the conference website – where you will need to put your key personal information (name, date of birth, education, etc.) Through this account you will submit your thesis or register for the Conference.
  • Registration can be individual or group (only applicable to the registration of five people or more.) The company or organization requesting a group registration must nominate one group representative who will administer the group communication with the Conference committee.
  • Usually, when applying for a scholarship, one should submit a cover letter with clear reasoning of why this scholarship is needed. Your personal details and passport data will be requested.

Scientific tracks

AIDS 2018 Conference will welcome submission of abstracts for original contribution to the field in the following scientific tracks:

Track A: Basic and Translational Research.

Track B: Clinical Research.

Track C: Epidemiology and Prevention Research.

Track D: Social and Political Research, Law, Policy and Human Rights.

Track E: Implementation Research, Economics, Systems and Synergies with other Health and Development Sectors.

Tips for writing a strong abstract

Even though there are no abstract guidelines yet available, you may consider developing a draft anyhow.

Language and grammar

The official language of the conference is English. Thus, all abstracts should be developed and presented only in the English language. The abstracts that are written well have higher chances to be selected by the Conference committee, regardless of their content. Grammar mistakes and typos will distract the reviewers from the actual study content. The reviewers might also wonder if the author is able to communicate study findings in the English language at all. For a non-native speaker, it might be quite difficult to spot all the mistakes or weird phrases. That is why we highly recommend asking for some assistance, for example from your English-speaking colleagues or friends. We also suggest to use the examples of previous conference abstracts and peer reviewed scientific papers. Studying them will help you to understand how to be succinct and informative at the same time. Besides, you might be able to see some useful linguistic construction and techniques.

Brevity is the soul of wit

The abstract should be short, yet informative. That is why you would need to have sufficient time to “pack” all the information into 300 words. If you plan to write an abstract in the last moment, you would not have time to think it through, and thus, most probably you would start “cutting.” As a result, you can end up with the text full of abbreviations, with one line of introduction and super reduced methods section, which will look like a broken puzzle.  Good abstract should be well-balanced, and all its sections should be connected and should smoothly tell the story to your reader. The reviewers would not appreciate any quizzes in your abstract, they would not guess what you mean or what you intend to say. Therefore, the text should be easy to follow, it should be reader-friendly and logically built. In other case, the reviewers might decide that the information provided in the abstract is not enough and simply reject your abstract.

Results will come later

The common problem of many people is to write the abstract without having data or analysis done. It is better not to write an abstract at all, if there are no results available. You also might consider using some previous data. Just try to have some new research questions in your abstract, or try to use a new analytical approach.

Prioritizing the key message

The abstract should be written in such a way, that a key message can be easily grasped. This key idea should be stated in the introduction as the study goal. It should also be presented in the methods, proved by the results, and finally, it should “crystalize” in the conclusion. Think it over for this type of task requires slow thinking and digesting.

Abbreviations and professional terms

Even though the reviewers should be familiar with commonly used abbreviations and professional terms, it is seen as a bad manner to use these concepts without full spelling or clear description. Therefore, when using abbreviation and professional terms, try to follow the norms of scientific writing. Firstly, all abbreviation should be spelled out, when used for the first time in the text. Secondly, the professional language should be avoided or used upon clear definition. Besides, no discriminating or stigmatizing language is acceptable.

Conclusion

If in the Post-Soviet countries, the phrases like “we recommend conducting an additional study” or “more research is needed” are well-accepted, in the Western world such phrases can be perceived as a bad tone, since there is no such field of science where no additional research is needed. Yet, using the precious words for providing these kind of statements is a waste, especially when talking about the conference abstracts. In the conclusion of the abstract, the reviewer is waiting for your final word, the answer to your research question, not for an empty phrase. Another typical mistake is to make ambitious loud claims which are not supported by the results, for instance, that the sample size was not representative, but the conclusions are made based on the whole country population. The best advice is to support the conclusions by data, not by the ambitions of the author. One should also remember that conclusion is like saying goodbye to your readers. Therefore, you should think about leaving them with the feeling of the firm handshake and with a polite smile on your face. This is what you reader will remember.

AFEW Grieves Over the Loss of Yury Sarankov

We, at AFEW network, are shocked by the sad news that our colleague Yury Sarankov passed away.

Yury worked in AFEW from the very beginning. Starting in Russia, when AFEW was not yet founded and activities were implemented under the flag of Medecins sans Frontiers (MSF), he specialized in developing and implementing harm reduction activities. Later, he moved to Kyiv to give harm reduction a boost in Ukraine. He was there when AFEW was established in 2000 and continued working on harm reduction. Yury was a rather introvert person and you would not always notice him, but when the subject of injecting drug use and especially harm reduction was discussed, and how, in the early days, the establishment of harm reduction was often blocked, he raised his voice. Yury became well-known as a harm reduction expert and as the editor of a harm reduction digest that he was spreading by the e-mail through the AFEW network.

In the last couple of years, Yury decided to stop his work with AFEW. However, he continued to work as a consultant on men who have sex with men (MSM) and LGBT issues. He kept the link with AFEW, and until his last days, he remained the member of AFEW-Ukraine fund. We have lost a strong advocate for HIV prevention, the rights of key populations affected by HIV, and also a very nice man and a very dear colleague. Our condolences go to his family, friends, and colleagues.

Communities in Kyrgyzstan Explore their Needs for the First Time

Community research provides an opportunity to objectively assess the existing services. Focus group in the office of Ulukman Dariger NGO in Issyk-Kul area

Author: Olga Ochneva, Kyrgyzstan

Sex workers over the age of 30 desperately need employment; women living with HIV have a need for women’s dormitories – these are the preliminary conclusions of two different studies conducted in Kyrgyzstan. The complete results of the needs’ assessment and HIV prevention programs in the country will be presented at the 22nd International AIDS Conference (AIDS 2018). The research is conducted by these communities for the first time. AFEW International provided this opportunity for key populations in Kyrgyzstan and other countries of East Europe and Central Asia (EECA) within the Small Grants Program.

New and unexpected discoveries

International AIDS Conference is a platform for the community to express their voices. Currently, community organizations from the EECA countries supported by AFEW International are carrying out the research, the results of which will be presented at the International AIDS Conference in July 2018 in Amsterdam. There are two research teams in Kyrgyzstan.

“Our organization has wanted to conduct a similar assessment for a long time. This is the first full-scale study among sex workers in the country,” Ulan Tursunbayev, the director of Ulukman Dariger NGO says. His organization assesses the effectiveness of HIV/AIDS prevention program with the help of the sex-workers themselves. “The preparation of the research and data collection took us four months. We traveled the country – four people, two of which being consultants. First, we tested our questions in mini sessions, so that they were clear to the community members and could open them up for the dialog.”

Another organization from Kyrgyzstan – PF Prosvet – conducts research work among women living with HIV. They study the impact of HIV-positive status on women’s lives.

“Community representatives are the main executors of the project,” Margarita Sabirova, a psychologist at Prosvet is saying. AFEW International has provided all training opportunities: trainings, online modules, technical expert support. Community education has become one of the most important and long-lasting pre-research phases. Nowadays, they possess new knowledge and skills, and we have honest and frank research data.”

Data mining has been conducted since April, and the final reports are being currently prepared. It has already become clear that the research contains new and unexpected discoveries.

“It was really interesting to see how the needs of sex workers differ before and after they turn 30,” Ulan Tusunbaev says. “They even sat apart from each other during the focus group meetings. Young women said they had enough condom supplies from prevention projects, outreach work and legal assistance. Older sex workers wanted to change the area of work and asked for the assistance with this.”

Many said that they rather would not provide sex services for the rest of their lives, and wanted to start building their future then.

“In course of my work, I was able to buy some land where I am starting to build a house, and where I will then open a store. I have already prepared the materials for construction,” says one of the interviewees of the research. “I hope this store will help me and my child when I will no longer do sex-work. Therefore, it is good to have some skills training programs available. After all, we have all been working here for 5-8 years and have no education. In order to engage in something different, we would need additional skills.”

The South and North have different needs

Women with HIV: “We need special support.” The head of Public Foundation Prosvet conducts a focus group in Bishkek

Employment is also one of the most important problems for women living with HIV. According to the representative of PF Prosvet, women say that many of them have no spouses and thus they need to take care about their own financial well-being. Some of them are the only ones who financially support their children. Employers often unreasonably demand HIV and medical examination and refuse employment.

“Thanks to the research, we are sure now that the services need to be divided according to the needs of a certain group,” Margarita Sabirova shares. “We have not only identified the priority needs, but also clearly noticed the difference in the set services needed in the North and South of the country. For instance, people in the South need social support, while people in the North of the country are more socialized clients who have different needs.”

The next phase in the Small Grant Program by AFEW International is the training on how to write abstracts (thesis) for organizations in preparation for AIDS 2018 and teaching them how to present their research results.

“The lack of gender approaches in the provision of services and the specifics of different areas of the country often limit access to the health care, legal, social, and psychological support. We hope that the presentation on the results of our study during AIDS2018 will encourage participants from other countries to pay attention to this problem in their own part of the country,” Margarita Sabirova is saying. “The research has identified a number of specific service needs for women, which are not met now either fully or partially. We hope that funds will be available to finance this unmet need. We have many recommendations in our report, and these will help to improve existing services. In any case, as an organization, in whom the community trusts, we should express community needs to the government, donor and non-governmental organizations.”