What people living with HIV need to know about HIV and COVID-19?

UNAIDS developed a guidelines for people who live with HIV.

Read it here

What UNAIDS recommends:
1. HIV services must continue to be made available for people living with and at risk of HIV. This includes ensuring the availability of condoms, opioid substitution therapy, sterile needles and syringes, harm reduction, pre-exposure prophylaxis and HIV testing.
2. To prevent people from running out of medicines and to reduce the need to access the health system, countries should move to the full implementation of multimonth dispensing of three months or more of HIV treatment.
3. There must be access to COVID-19 services for vulnerable people, including a targeted approach to reach those most left behind and removing financial barriers, such as user fees.

Voices from the East

AFEW International is actively advocating for the needs to sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR) of the EECA region at the international arena.

On 11th March AFEW International on behalf of the partnership ‘Voices from the East’ has submitted a proposal to the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs under the Policy Framework for Strengthening Civil Society for 2021-2025, Grant Instrument SRHR Partnership Fund. Under the leadership of AFEW International, the Voices from the East Partnership brought together 11 strong advocacy and service-oriented organisations and networks to improve access to SRHR for women and youth of Key Population (KP) groups and transgender people:

AFEW International; Eurasian Harm Reduction Association (EHRA); ECOM – Eurasian Coalition On Health, Rights, Gender And Sexual Diversity; Eurasian Union Of Adolescents And Youth Teenergizer; Eurasian Women’s Network On Aids (EWNA); Sex Workers Rights’ Advocacy Network (SWAN); Eurasian Network Of People Who Use Drugs (ENPUD); Dance4life; AFEW-Ukraine; AFEW-Kyrgyzstan; AFEW Kazakhstan.

The partnership plans to work with over 150 local partner organizations from across Easter Europe and Central Asia, advocating for SRHR of women and young people from key populations (living with HIV, sex workers, using drugs, LGBT, in prison) and transgender people as integral part of the Universal Health Coverage (UHC). Through capacity strengthening and mobilizing local communities of key populations the Partnership will work towards evidence-based community-led advocacy for access to high quality, inclusive, stigma-free, integrated and gender transformative SRHR services.

We will know the results of this application in the end of May 2020.

The Dutch Government Policy Framework for Strengthening Civil Society is focused on the West-Africa/Sahel, Horn of Africa, and Middle East and North Africa (MENA) regions. The Voices from the East Partnership is asking for attention to the continued health crisis in the EECA region, being the only region in the world with a growing AIDS epidemic.

Women in prison: mental health and well-being – a guide for prison staff

People in prison have a disproportionately high rate of poor mental health, and research shows these rates are even higher for women in prison. While primary care remains the responsibility of healthcare professionals, frontline prison staff play an important role in protecting and addressing mental health needs of women in prison.

Penal Reform International (PRI), in partnership with the Prison Reform Trust (PRT), has published a guide for prison and probation staff to help them understand how prison life can affect a person’s mental health, with a focus on women. The guide aims to break down the stigma and discrimination attached to poor mental health, especially for women in prison.

This guide is written to help understand how life in prison can affect a person’s mental health, with a focus on women. It describes how to recognise the signs of poor mental health and how best to respond. It also includes a checklist based on international human rights standards aimed to help with the implementation of key aspects of prison reform and advocacy initiatives in line with international standards and norms.

Published with the support of Better Community Business Network (BCBN) and the Eleanor Rathbone Charitable Trust.

Find the guidelines here – PRI-Women-in-prison-and-mental-well-being.

So many women, so many fates

 

In Tajikistan, there is an increase in the proportion of sexual transmission of HIV infection from year to year and an increase in the number of women of reproductive age among those registered with the diagnosis established for the first time. That is why in 2019 the public organization “Tajik network of women living with HIV” (TNW+) with the support of AFEW International in the framework of Bridging the Gaps project conducted a study “Key problems of sexual and reproductive health of women living with HIV in Tajikistan through the prism of human rights”.

Before the International Women’s Day on 8 March, Tahmina Khaydarova, head of TNW+ discussed with AFEW International HIV, sex, violence and gender inequality in Tajikistan.

What does sex mean for men and women in Tajikistan?

For men, sex is an opportunity to satisfy their desire, and only then is it a way of making children. For women, sex is almost always a way of making children and extending the family. As a rule, women in Tajikistan cannot talk about sex and take the initiative in sexual relations, as it is considered to be debauchery.

Generally speaking, the sexuality in Tajikistan is highly exposed to traditional gender stereotypes. It is not common here to discuss sexual relations, either in the family or in society. Some people talk about it with their partners, doctors, etc. But even if they do that that they do not really understand the meaning and significance of the concepts of “sex” and “sexual relations” and most often talk about contraception, methods of protection against unwanted pregnancy, hygiene, etc. But not more.

Does it happen because of national traditions and religion?

Yes, in many ways. However, Islam is a religion of peace and good. Islam does not talk about the abuse of women, but there are other factors that affect women’s lives. These are stereotypes, which can be connected with religion.

One of them is “a woman is obliged to take care of her husband and all members of his family, to be obedient and kind”. Therefore, girls have been brought up in a spirit of obedience since childhood. Women themselves think that men’s interests come first. One of the features of families in the republic, especially in villages, is the predominance of extended families, where several generations of adults and children live in the same house – parents, their adult sons/daughters already married, grandparents, adult sisters or brothers. As a consequence, relatives constantly interfere in the husband and wife relationship.

In the family, girls are taught to be housewives, in most cases have no education, especially in villages, and after marriage the girl becomes very dependent on her partner and family members. Without the permission of her elders and husband, a woman has no right to leave her home and receive information about sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) if she wants. A woman must stand one step behind the man in everything: in decision-making, in expressing her opinion. A woman should listen to her husband’s words, she should keep silence, this is respect. It is also rare for women to be able to decide for themselves when, how and with whom to have sex, how many children to have, etc.

At the same time, sexual violence from an intimate partner increases the risk of HIV infection. During our survey, we heard from the respondents reasoning that non-consensual sexual intercourse is a normal phenomenon, and so it should be in the family, “This is your husband: if he wants to do something then you should obey. He’s young, and that’s why you have to satisfy his desires!”

Inequality between men and women in Tajikistan is developed not only in private life, but also in public life, isn’t it?

Yes, gender inequality is one of the problems hindering sustainable development in Tajikistan. Inequality is everywhere – in access to all types of tangible and intangible resources (property, land, finance, credit, education, etc.); in decision-making in all spheres and participation in political life, and violence against women.

Why do women tolerate violence?

Because it fits within the established system of gender inequality in Tajikistan. Men provide for women, control family relations, and therefore can do, in fact, whatever they want.

But the saddest thing is that society does not sufficiently understand the importance of this problem. It is convinced that domestic violence is a private matter. It is considered that the manifestation of abuse of wife, daughter-in-law, sister, etc. or constant control over their life and behavior is not violence but a norm. At the same time, it is widely believed that a woman is to blame if her husband or his relatives use physical force against her. There are many supporters of this opinion among young people, women themselves, and especially among their mothers-in-law. Therefore, in my opinion, special attention should be drawn to solving the problems of relations between mother-in-law and daughter-in-law, the relationship to the wives of migrant workers during the period when their husbands are outside the country, early and forced marriages, etc.

Are women with HIV more vulnerable?  

Definitely! Despite the fact that very often the source of HIV infection for a woman is her husband, she is subjected to violence and discrimination by her husband and his relatives. One woman said that her husband infected her, but did not consider himself guilty. Sometimes he closed the house and left his wife without food, hungry and helpless. One day he even tied her to a pole with a rope and beat her up, and then left for two days. After this she went to her parents, where she was also discriminated.

Why are women with HIV afraid to visit doctors?

Practice shows that those who go to the AIDS centre receive quality care and many are happy with it, including me. However, the main challenges for women are when they go to other health care facilities (for surgery or dentists), including primary health care (PHC). In these facilities women living with HIV (WLHIV) are most likely to experience discrimination against themselves. During focus groups, there were a lot of situations when health care workers refused to provide medical assistance to WLHIV and disclosed their status. Most of these cases were in maternity hospitals, dental clinics and during other surgeries. Therefore, most HIV-positive women are afraid to disclose their status and do not seek services from health care institutions, including primary health care services in their place of residence.

Have you talked to these doctors? What do they say about discrimination against people living with HIV?

We haven’t interviewed the health workers. However, many women believe that the reasons are in the lack of preparedness of health workers to work with PLHIV, as well as the low level of knowledge about HIV among staff. One woman, who went to the clinic, told doctors about her status. They immediately refused her services. The woman said it was a violation of her constitutional rights. But doctors said that she was ill and they could not help her anymore. Just imagine – that’s what the doctors said!

Besides in Tajikistan there is not good medical personnel who have experience working with PLHIV. A lot of professionals are leaving our country.

Let’s imagine – a woman found out about her status, she is ready to be examined, receive treatment and do everything that doctors say. Can she face any obstacles even in this case?

An antiretroviral therapy (ART) in our country is bought from the Global Fund, so there are virtually no interruptions. If a person wants to take ART, he or she can get it at all AIDS centers. But according to WHO’s recommendations, people living with HIV are assigned to PHC services and according to these requirements a person has to get the service at home. Due to the fact that in rural areas and small towns and districts everybody practically knows each other, PLHIV are afraid of disclosing their status. So there is a possibility that they will not apply to these services locally for ART services.

How difficult is it for women to accept their status?

More often it depends on their level of awareness and education – they might not know anything about HIV or have distorted information about the virus. Because HIV does not show strong symptoms in the early stages, women think that they are not sick and that the virus does not affect them. Also, accepting a diagnosis depends on a specialist working with the woman, conducting pre-test and post-test counselling.

Do you plan to use the results of your research in future work?

At the moment, the country is developing a “National Program to combat HIV/AIDS epidemic in the Republic of Tajikistan for the period 2021-2025”, and we have joined the working group on ART treatment and prevention of stigma and discrimination against PLHIV. As part of this platform, we are actively promoting the recommendations in our report.

At the same time, the research results helped us to identify and understand a number of issues, which we have not always paid due attention to before. Therefore, we will use this information in our daily work.

You can find the research here

 

What should be a Primary Care?

In 2019 Anke van Dam, executive director of AFEW International, became a member of advisory board of European Forum for Primary Care (EFPC) to bring knowledge and vast expertise about the EECA region and a great network of contacts with organizations, institutes, agencies and professionals to the EFPC.

Which level does primary care (PC) in the EECA region have nowadays and how to improve that Prof. Jan De Maeseneer, Former Chair of European European Forum for Primary Care, professor emeritus at Ghent University, talked to AFEW International.

Jan, what are the features of a strong primary care (PC)?

We can speak of a strong primary care system when primary care is accessible for a large range of problems, coordinates care on a continuous basis, provides a broad range of health care services in partnership with informal care givers and operates with supportive governance structures, with appropriate financial resources and investments in the development of the primary care workforce. Effective primary care not only prevents diseases at early stages, but also stimulates people to take up healthier life-styles. Overall health is considered within primary care in a more holistic matter, paying attention not only to biomedical and mental health needs, but also to other causes of ill health, such as social determinants (e.g. housing conditions, employment). This makes primary care more person- centred than disease-centred.

PC of which country/region is the most developed nowadays?

Mostly it’s Europe. The countries with relatively strong primary care are Denmark, Estonia, Finland, Lithuania, the Netherlands, Portugal, Slovenia, some regions in Spain and Belgium, and the United Kingdom. Especially I like the examples of Denmark, Estonia, and Finland. These countries have «primary care zones». They look at the population 100-200 000 people and try to install a PC system at that level. That enables give a high degree of participation of all stakeholders. At that scale cooperation is easy, and there is an oversight of population’s health needs, to be addressed. The scale is not too big but big enough to have a “critical mass” for effective intervention for different kinds of problems.

And what about the EECA region?

A good primary care needs democracy. Unfortunately, the former “Semashko” Soviet Union healthcare system (HCS) with policlinics, lacking family physicians, and with doctors that earn very little money don’t allow to set up a good PC. I appreciate the development of Kazakhstan – recently they rediscovered the importance of family physicians. Also, I was very surprised by Kyrgiz Republic. Last year I had the opportunity to lecture for 5th year medical students in Bishkek. In discussion on patients’ stories, they demonstrated a high commitment and patient-centeredness, and excellent skills in clinical decision making. EFPC is trying now to help countries in the EECA region to establish better inter-professional training for primary care, using primary care practices in local communities

It’s important for countries in the region to work together and to build their own PC systems. In Eastern Europe Estonia and Lithuania are doing well. Belarus is not the best example, because of the political situation. It is difficult to combine strong primary care with political dictatorship. In Russia I see some nice things. In Saint Petersburg, for example, there are good departments of family medicine with person-centered approach. But it’s still a difficult country. Good PC is possible only in countries with freedom of speech, human rights, democracy and respect for diversity.

Why good PC is especially important for people living with HIV?

Usually in countries of the EECA region if a person has one of 3 diseases – HIV, TB or Hep, most of the health care resources focus on them. There is no general comprehensive, integrated Primary Care.

PC functions very well when you integrate the care and treatment for those diseases in the broader primary health care system (HCS) as World Health Assembly has clearly stated in resolution 62.12 (in 2009). In Africa I met people who had, for example, 5 diseases, so they had 5 different vertical programs of treatment and 5 different doctors who even didn’t speak with each other. Wise HCS is when you integrate these 5 approaches into one, because, for example, diabetes can be easily an (indirect) consequence of HIV treatment.

Is there a difference between European and the EECA region’s approaches in treatment of HIV+ people?

In western countries HIV/AIDS patients are patients like all the others, they are treated in PC. When primary care providers have problems, they refer patients to the secondary care. Such approach also avoids stigmatizing of people, because when they are treated differently, are included in a separate program, there is a huge risk of stigma. Also, the integrated approach is more cost effective.

How to change people’s minds, also doctors’, towards people with HIV?

Well, first of all, you need to retrain family physicians and other primary care providers. In Russia doctors have limited, if any, training in patient-doctor communication, are not familiar with a human rights approach. For example, in the undergraduate training in my university (Ghent University), there are 55 hours of practicing doctor-patient communications with videotaping, simulated and real patients. Also, it’s necessary to train a sufficient number of family physicians for Primary Care: this requires 3 years of full-time post-graduate training, with specific programs and standards. Besides, it’s important to inform and educate population.

People should understand that every person deserves our respect, and we shouldn’t stigmatize others because they have certain diseases. It’s an open culture in a country, and it is a responsibility of the government and civil society.

What is the goal of EFPC in the region?

EFPC has several goals everywhere, including the EECA region. They are:

– to provide a one-stop information hub and building a substantial collection of information and data over time;

– to guide the development of innovative interventions based on the principles of equity, access, quality, person- and people centeredness, cost-effectiveness, innovation and sustainability.

– to connect four groups of interested parties: patients, citizens and civil society organizations.

– to share communication and information;

– to establish networking and training.

Today we have a good contact with countries from the region, people join our meetings. On the 27 September 2020, we will have a big conference in Ljubljana and in the future possibly also a conference in Central Asia. We want to create a regional platform for exchanging experiences. We hope to bring together health care providers and governments so they can learn from each other how to organize service that reflects people needs.

 

 

 

 

Russian NGOs adopt the experiences of the Netherlands

How do Dutch NGOs fundraise? What are alternative financing models? How to look for sustainable sources of income for NGOs through corporations, private donors, and through social entrepreneurship?

For answers to these and other questions, representatives of Russian NGOs went to the Netherlands. They took part in a study tour organized from 10 to 12 February in Amsterdam by AFEW International. A study tour for representatives of Russian NGOs was held as part of the EU-Russia Civil Forum and the program “Bridging the gaps the Gaps: Health and Rights for Key Populations”.

Representatives of such organizations as Aidsfonds, Mainline, De Regenboog Groep, Dance4Life, as well as the Amsterdam Dinner Foundation shared their experience with the participants.

Nowadays traditional methods no longer satisfy the needs of Russian NGOs, which face great difficulties in obtaining international institutional funding and whose needs cannot be covered by available domestic funds. Thus, alternative funding may lead to less dependence on traditional institutional donors.

The purpose of this study tour was to become familiar with alternative financing models. Participants learned about the new experience of Dutch NGOs and gained knowledge on 7 financing models that do not involve receiving funds from institutional donors.

Drug Decriminalisation Across the World

How can we end the war on drug users? Ask the jurisdictions worldwide that have decriminalised drug use!

A new web-tool launched today shows that 49 countries and jurisdictions across the world have adopted some form of decriminalisation for drug use and possession for personal use. Experts say the number of jurisdictions turning to this policy option is likely to increase in the coming years.

Drug Decriminalisation Across the World’, an interactive map developed by Talking Drugs, Release and the International Drug Policy Consortium (IDPC), offers an overview of the different decriminalisation models – and their level of effectiveness – adopted all over the world.

Twenty-nine countries (or 49 jurisdictions) have adopted this approach in recognition that the criminalisation of people who use drugs is a failed policy, disproportionately targeting people living in poverty, people of colour and young people, and causing untold damage.

When effectively implemented, decriminalisation can contribute to improved health, social and economic outcomes for people who use drugs and their communities, as well as reduced criminal justice spending and recidivism. Further, there is no evidence that drug use increases under this model – or that it would decrease if criminalised. Decriminalisation is not a ‘soft’ policy option – it is the smart approach to reducing harms for individuals and society.

The major harms caused by the so-called ‘war on drugs’ have now been widely recognised: one in five people incarcerated for drug offences globally; more than half a million preventable deaths by overdose, HIV, hepatitis C and tuberculosis in 2016 alone; and severe human rights violations including arbitrary detentions, executions and extrajudicial killings. While this horrific situation is getting worse each year, the scale of the illicit drug market and prevalence of drug use continue to soar – at least according to the UN Office on Drugs and Crime’s latest global overview from 2019.

Niamh Eastwood, Executive Director of Release (the UK centre of expertise on drugs and drugs law), said: “What we really wanted to show here is the number and diversity of existing decriminalisation models adopted all over the world, and what the real impact is on the ground in terms of health, human rights, criminal justice and social justice outcomes”.

Ann Fordham, Executive Director of IDPC (a global network of non-government organisations that specialise in issues related to illegal drug production and use), said: “In Portugal, decriminalisation has significantly reduced health risks and harms. But that’s not the case everywhere. In Russia and Mexico, ill-designed models have exacerbated incarceration rates and social exclusion. When designing decriminalisation models, governments have to carefully review the evidence of what does and doesn’t work to ensure success”.

Imani Robinson, Editor of TalkingDrugs (online platforms dedicated to providing unique news and analysis on drug policy, harm reduction and related issues around the world), said: “The most useful element of this interactive map is that it highlights the impact of decriminalisation for communities on the ground. Many models enable the liberation of people who use drugs through a broad commitment to greater health and social gains overall and an emphasis on the provision of harm reduction education and services; others do not garner the same results. Smart drug policy is not decriminalisation by any means necessary, it is decriminalisation done right.”

I Love Every Minute of My Life

HIV is not a verdict. It is a reason to look at your life from a different angle and get to love every moment of it.

That is exactly what Amina, the protagonist of this story who lives with HIV, did. She went through the dark side of self-tortures, reflections, and suicidal attempts to realize that every minute is precious and HIV is what helped her to become strong, independent and happy.

Amina works in the Tajikistan Network of Women Living with HIV. She found herself in this field and nowadays she is actively involved in the Antistigma project implemented within the Bridging the Gaps programme.

How I learned about my status

“In 2012, I got pregnant for the fourth time. Seven months into my pregnancy, I got tested for HIV within the routine health monitoring. Four weeks after, I was asked to come to the clinic and was told that they detected haemolysis in my blood. I got tested again. My doctor told me the result of this second test after my baby was already born.

HIV. The diagnosis sounded like a verdict. What should I do? How should I live? Where can I get accurate information? My conversations with health workers were not very informative. Nobody told me that one can live an absolutely normal life with the virus. I felt that I was alone, left somewhere in the middle of an ocean. I had my baby in my arms, my husband who injected drugs was in prison. Back then, I hoped that I could tell at least my mother about the diagnosis to make it easier for me. However, the virus drove us apart. My mother, who took care of me for all my life, turned her back on me. At the same time, my three-month-old daughter, who also had HIV, died of pneumocystis pneumonia. I hated myself so much that I even had suicidal thoughts. I took some gas oil, matches… If not for my brother, who saw me, I would have burned myself. Then I remember a handful of pills, an ambulance and another failed attempt to kill myself. I felt that I was completely alone on this dark road of life. I started losing weight and falling into depression”.

Through suicidal attempts to the new life

“Two years passed, and my suicidal thoughts started to gradually go away. I had to go on living. Throughout all this time, I kept ignoring my status, but I was searching for the information on HIV in the internet. I was not even thinking about ARVs, I was not ready for the therapy. Sometimes I did not believe that I had HIV as doctors kept telling me that HIV was a disease of sex workers.

After a while, I came to the AIDS centre with a clear intention to start ART. I passed all the required examinations and told the infectious disease doctor that I wanted to start the treatment. Six months after, I already had an undetectable viral load! I believed in myself, in my results, so I wanted to share this knowledge with all the people who found themselves in similar situations. That’s how I started working at the AIDS centre as a volunteer and later as a peer consultant”.

I am happy!

“HIV helped me to start a new life. I am happy – I help people, I am doing something good for the society working at the Tajikistan Network of Women Living with HIV. Recently, I was the coordinator of the Photo Voice project.

I want to keep people who find themselves in similar situations from repeating my mistakes. I want to protect them from unfair attitude, stigma and discrimination against PLWH as well as different conflicts, in particular based on gender.

In 2019, I gave birth to a baby. My boy is healthy. Just recently, with the help of the Photovoices project I disclosed my HIV status to my older sons.  Before that, I wanted to keep that as a secret, but after training and meetings with women within the framework of this project, I decided that I need to open my status. For me it was the scariest thing to do as I thought that they might not accept me as my mother did. However, I did not have to worry. My children hugged me and said that I am the best mother in the world. Now I’m a happy wife of my husband, whom I convinced to start opioid substitution treatment.

HIV helped me to be happy and independent! I am not afraid to say that I have HIV and I love every minute of my life!”

 

 

Prospects for cooperation in the health sector in Uzbekistan

On January 10, 2020, AFEW International, represented by Anke van Dam, Executive Director, and Daria Alexeeva, Program Director, met with Ambassador of Uzbekistan in Benelux countries Dilier Hakimov.

AFEW International is considering possibilities to implement two projects in Uzbekistan. The first one is to develop and improve the quality of HIV testing and prevention services for key populations and support people living with HIV.

The second project, entitled “Strengthening civil society in inclusive health care in Uzbekistan”, is currently under consideration by the European Commission and is on the reserve list of projects.

At the end of the meeting, the parties agreed on a schedule for the AFEW International delegation to visit Tashkent on 15-16 January 2020. AFEW International’s team will have negotiations with the Republican AIDS Center, as well as with representatives of some international organizations, which may act as donors for the implementation of projects of the non-governmental organization in Uzbekistan.

AFEW International already has experience in working in Uzbekistan: the organization supported several projects in the country through ESF, as well as was involved in preparations for the AIDS2018 conference. In addition, representatives from Uzbekistan participated in AFEW International’s community based research education project.