AFEW-Kyrgyzstan Started the Year with Rebranding

By changing the name “AIDS Foundation East-West in the Kyrgyz Republic” at the beginning of the year 2019, AFEW-Kyrgyzstan emphasized its involvement in the international AFEW Network. Another reason for changing the name and logo of the organisation is the expanding capabilities.

“Now we are working not only in the field of HIV and AIDS. We are implementing tuberculosis treatment projects, conducting large-scale researches, carrying out advocacy campaigns to protect the rights of people and for the economic empowerment of women. Therefore, the former name no longer fully reflects our goals and values,” says the Chair of the Board of AFEW-Kyrgyzstan Natalia Shumskaya.

The new logo has retained one of the key elements of the previous one – the human figure, because everything AFEW does is aimed at helping specific people. The figure also shows that AFEW-Kyrgyzstan works, involving people from the community, and for them.

Three blue and one red objects around the white pattern represent different countries since AFEW-Kyrgyzstan is a part of an international network and is ready to use the experience of foreign partners to build a healthy future in the country.

In an updated form, AFEW-Kyrgyzstan is ready to welcome its old partners again and look for new opportunities to help people from key populations.

World AIDS Day 2018 – Message of Anke van Dam

World AIDS Day 2018: a message of AFEW International Executive Director Anke van Dam

1 December 2018

This year’s theme for World AIDS Day is encouraging people to know their HIV status. HIV testing is very much needed for expanding treatment. Treatment is so important as that makes that no HIV is detected in blood and therefore not transmissible to other people. In the region where AFEW International works – Eastern Europe and Central Asia (EECA) – barriers to HIV testing still remain. Last year, among the 1.4 million people living with HIV in the region 73% were aware of their HIV status.

Stigma and discrimination are the obstacles that discourage people from taking an HIV test in the EECA countries. Access to confidential HIV testing in the region is still a concern. Many people only get tested after becoming ill and symptomatic. That is why we at AFEW are working on expanding the access to HIV testing. Partnering with the NGOs and CBOs in Eastern Europe and Central Asia, we ensure that people who use drugs, prisoners, sex workers, LGBT and young people have access to confidential HIV testing, and people living with HIV have access to good medical care and have great possibilities for a healthy future.

This year, the 22nd International AIDS Conference in Amsterdam AIDS 2018 reinforced our work. The focus on public health concerns as HIV, TB and viral hepatitis in the EECA region allowed us to present the challenges and the obstacles in policies, political and health care systems. With the relevant stakeholders in one spot, we had an excellent chance to facilitate the dialogue between communities, political leaders and donors for better access to treatment and for sustainable financial mechanisms.

We are continuing emphasizing on Eastern Europe and Central Asia and its public health concerns after AIDS 2018 Conference! AFEW addressed the needs for diagnostics and treatment for tuberculosis in Eastern Europe and Central Asia at a side event during the United Nations General Assembly high-level meeting on tuberculosis in New York in September and during the 49th Union World Conference on Lung Health in October in the Netherlands. Let us continue the dialogue about the healthy future for the EECA region and let the barriers to accessing HIV testing be removed.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

HIV on AIDS 2018: Global Extent, Impact and the Way Forward

The issues of stigma, discrimination and human rights violations were broadly discussed during the AIDS 2018 conference which was held in Amsterdam, Netherlands in July 2018. The conference sessions explored the political, economic and sociological manifestations of HIV related stigma, discrimination and human rights violations on the global level articulated by the civil society.

Global Network of People living with HIV presented their report on HIV stigma and discrimination in the world of work which included findings from people living with HIV (PLHIV) stigma index. The report was written based on the information provided by 13 country teams who implemented the PLHIV Stigma Index.

Stigma index as a tool

Addressing stigma-affected people living with HIV is a global priority. Stigma, defined as “the co‐occurrence of labeling, stereotyping, separation, status loss, and discrimination in a context in which power is exercised,” has a negative impact on the health of PLHIV and contributes to the psychosocial stress, coercion and violence, job loss, and social exclusion. PLHIV, gay men and other men who have sex with other men (MSM), transgender individuals, sex workers, and people who use drugs (PWUD) – often referred to as key populations – are at the intersection of HIV‐related stigma and prejudice against their identities, occupations or behaviors that are often exacerbating their experiences of stigma and discrimination.

The PLHIV stigma index provides the evidence on stigma and discrimination that has been essential for informing HIV policy, PLHIV rights advocacy efforts, and stigma‐reduction interventions.  Stigma index is a research tool by which PLHIV capture data on their experiences of stigma and discrimination. As of November 2017, more than 100,000 PLHIV had been interviewed in over 50 languages by 2 000 trained PLHIV interviewers.

Stigma is complex

Stigma and discrimination remain a significant HIV risk factor for the key populations all over the world and mostly for people living with HIV as stigma directly and negatively affects health outcomes. At the International AIDS 2018 Conference, the participants reviewed new developments in the effort to combat stigma and discrimination, report results from researches and analyses of interventions and effective anti-stigma programs. The implications of the studies were discussed as they relate to the development of ongoing efforts to reduce HIV-related stigma and discrimination around the globe.

The construction of stigma is complex. Therefore, anti-stigma interventions must take this into account. Stefan Baral, M.D., Johns Hopkins University, presented a cross-country analysis of intersectional stigma among MSM, including perceived stigma, enacted stigma, and anticipated stigma related to family, community, and the health system.

As national AIDS programs and the international community grow efforts to implement plans for the universal access to HIV prevention, treatment, care and support, participants of the AIDS response should work together to overcome the main obstacles to achieving this goal.

MSM with depression have higher risk of stigma

Expressions of stigma in this analysis included a broad range of behaviors, such as family exclusion, rejection by friends, family gossip, verbal harassment, being afraid in public, being afraid to seek care, avoiding seeking care, poor treatment by health care workers, health care worker gossip, police not providing protection, blackmail, and even physical harm. Harassment and gossip were noted as important forms of enacted stigma that must be addressed, and intersecting identities were found to raise the risk of experiencing high stigma. MSM with depression, for example, had a higher risk of being stigmatized. These intersecting identities represent a critical target for all types of stigma reduction, particularly anticipated health care stigma.

In many countries and communities, HIV stigma and subsequent discrimination can lead to the same devastating effects as the disease itself: a break with a spouse and/or family, social ostracism, loss of work and property, exclusion from school, denial of medical services, lack of care, support, and violence. These consequences or the fear of them mean that people will not be very willing to be tested for HIV, disclose their HIV status to others, or seek treatment, care and support.

Students will Attend the Annual Conference with a Discount

The annual STD x HIV x Sex Congress organized by AIDSfonds in the Beurs van Berlage in Amsterdam, the Netherlands, this year will take place on 23 November. AFEW International gladly offers students the chance to attend the Congress for 15 euros, which is a fraction of the regular ticket price. We invite you to take part in the congress if you are a student interested in issues related to HIV/AIDS and sexual and reproductive health and rights.

About 500 professionals from various institutions such as Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Amsterdam Municipal Health Service, Public Health Ministry, national and international NGOs and research institutions take part in the Congress in Amsterdam. These professionals are committed to ending AIDS and decreasing STD infections. The Congress is also a place to learn about community-based development and new research findings and technologies. Congress tickets can be bought between 11 October and 16 November online.

The student discount is made possible by AFEW International. AFEW is a network of civil society organisations working in the Eastern European and Central Asian (EECA) region. With AFEW International’s secretariat based in Amsterdam and country-offices in Kazakhstan, Kyrgzystan, Tajikistan and Ukraine, AFEW strives to promote health and increased access to prevention, treatment and care for public health concerns such as HIV, TB, viral hepatitis and sexual reproductive health and rights. At the STD x HIV x Sex Congress, AFEW is hosting an art expo and a workshop that brings students and professionals together to discuss the future of the work field.

Svetlana Izambaeva: “Uncovering the Topic of HIV, We Talk About Violence and Bullying”

Author: Olesya Kravchuk, AFEW International

Svetlana Izambaeva was one of the first women living with HIV in Russia who was brave enough to open her face. Now Svetlana supports other people living with HIV. In summer 2018, Svetlana Izambaeva’s Non-Profit Charitable Foundation held a gathering of adolescents living with HIV with the financial support of AFEW International and other donors. We talked with Svetlana to ask her what was interesting about this gathering in Georgia and why, when we talk about HIV, we also “uncover” other topics.

– Svetlana, could you please tell us how the idea of having a summer gathering was born? Who was able to take part in it?

– It started with our desire to support adolescents living with HIV in Kazan. Later those boys and girls, who had been participating in such meetings for five years, offered to hold a meeting with adolescents from other cities and countries. Several adolescents from Kazan dreamt about going to the seaside. Thus, those adolescents’ dream gave birth to our project #vseprosto (#itseasy). Before, we held one- or three-day workshops in the cities of Tatarstan, Ufa, Nizhny Novgorod, and Irkutsk.

We made a decision on the venue and started sharing information about the event through social media and AIDS centres. The response was immediate. We heard both from mothers of children living with HIV and from adolescents living with HIV. Every person who wanted to attend our event had to fill in a questionnaire based on which we selected the participants. An important eligibility criterion was the awareness of adolescent of his or her HIV status. This year, the meeting in Georgia brought together adolescents aged 11 years old and above from six countries – Russia, Ukraine, Armenia, Georgia, Belarus, and Kazakhstan – and nine cities of Russia – Vladivostok, Irkutsk, Ekaterinburg, Nizhny Novgorod, Kazan, Orenburg, Rostov, St. Petersburg, and Moscow.

– How was this gathering different from a traditional summer camp for children?

– Our gathering was more than a camp. We had full immersion into the topic of HIV, including all medical and psychological issues. Interactive games and quests help us to reinforce the theory. We raise the questions related to feelings, emotions, and experiences, explore guilt, resentment and pain, acceptance of diagnosis and empowerment. An important factor is that we offer many games on HIV – while playing, adolescents learn about the immune system and realize why they need to take pills strictly in accordance with their schedule. For some adolescents, this is the first time when they meet other boys and girls with HIV. At the gathering, we openly talk about HIV for ten days, which allows “recognizing” and accepting one’s diagnosis.

– What was your biggest insight during this gathering? Where there any good or maybe bad surprises for you?

– Each gathering has its own story and each one of them is special. Every time, we sit down with the team of trainers and prepare new exercises and new quest games for the adolescents. What is surprising is the depth of feelings and the extent of trust and openness among the adolescents living with HIV. They are all ready to work on their problems but not all of them are willing to do it in a group. From the very first day, we offer individual sessions with psychologists. Besides, one of the insights was that when we uncover the topic of HIV, we bring up deeper topics, such as violence, bullying, and reliance on parents. Parents or guardians may be a negative factor. There was a case when the guardian was not ready to work together all day long and also in the evening. We pay a lot of attention to building knowledge, but information is presented in the format of games and our participants have fun. Though it is just a five-minute walk to the seaside, our priority is keeping up with our agenda and the knowledge to be gained by the adolescents and their parents or guardians.

– What challenges did you encounter when planning the event and how did you cope with them?

– The main challenge was raising funds. We needed money to cover accommodation and meals for the participants, pay the trainers (though three times we did not pay either to trainers or to the logistics provider), to buy stationery, gifts, T-shirts and caps. It was important to have at least five trainers for 30 participants as we had both general activities and small group sessions. We had to find sponsors to cover our costs, and it was not easy. Besides, at our gathering we started training people who would like to conduct similar activities in their regions.

– Why is this event important? Have you achieved the goals that you wanted to achieve?

– This event is important for every adolescent – that is what they say in their comments and follow-up questionnaires. The changes happening with every boy and girl may be tracked through the diagnostic drawings that they do in the first and last days of the event. On the first day, when they are asked what they feel, think and want to do when they hear the word “HIV”, they draw scary images and write “pain, guilt, fear, do not want to talk about it.” On the last day, when answering the same question, they depict strength, confidence, freedom, easiness and desire to support their peers. The event is also important because after it they will not stop taking their therapy and will adhere to treatment. We already see the results of their blood assays. Our event is also aimed at the prevention of suicide attempts and depression.

Do you plan arranging similar events in future?

– We have already organized and held four gatherings: in 2017 – in Sochi and St. Petersburg, in 2018 – in Ureki (Georgia) and Vladivostok (Russia). We have piloted the programme, trained the trainers and we plan to launch such gatherings in Russia and open centres for adolescents in Irkutsk, Kazan, and Krasnodar region. Next year, we plan to conduct first-level training for new participants in each of the territorial units, hold a gathering in Irkutsk at the Baikal Lake and then – an international event in Armenia. Besides, we would like to hold a meeting and workshop in Moscow suburbs for a team of leaders from all our gatherings.

Study of Sex Workers’ Behaviour in Georgia

Author: Irma Kakhurashvili, Georgia

Gabriela, a 40-year-old sex worker from Tbilisi has not been tested for HIV since 2016. She is convinced that she does not have HIV. She also thinks that she knows everything about this virus. However, when asked if HIV is transmitted by mosquitoes, she says ‘yes’. In July, Gabriela is going to the bustling resort city of Batumi to earn some extra money.

“I do not think that I will get tested for HIV anytime soon as I have got a lot of work and do not have free time. Besides, from Batumi I plan to relocate to Turkey,” says the woman.

Gabriela did not participate in the recent research conducted in two cities of Georgia – Tbilisi and Batumi – to study risky and safe behaviours of sex workers.

No major changes

The Tanadgoma Centre for Information and Counselling on Reproductive Health is the first Georgian organization, which has been studying the HIV transmission among sex workers since 2002. The recent study held in 2017 covered 350 women: 200 from Tbilisi and 150 from Batumi. The goal of the researchers was to determine the prevalence of HIV, hepatitis C, gonorrhoea and syphilis among people involved in sex work. Besides, they were able to analyse the key risks associated with HIV and to collect valuable information for advocacy and policy development. The research study was conducted with the support of the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, the Curatio International Foundation and the Infectious Diseases, AIDS and Clinical Immunology Research Centre.

The study confirmed that 85% of women in Tbilisi and 97.3% in Batumi know about the existence of HIV/AIDS, but only 11.5% of respondents in Tbilisi and 23.4% in Batumi gave correct answers to questions about the HIV transmission. For example, some respondents like Gabriela did not know that HIV is not transmitted through the bites of mosquitoes. In general, the respondents from Tbilisi were less aware of HIV if compared to the ones from Batumi.

Georgian researchers say that there have not been major changes in the study outcomes since 2012. For instance, most women mention condoms as the main measure of protection against HIV.

The study results showed that the indicators of condom use during most recent sexual intercourse with a commercial partner have not changed in the recent 10 years (over 90% in both cities). However, sex workers rarely use condoms with their regular clients.

“I do not use condoms with my regular clients to show that I trust them, but I definitely use them with other clients. I have to suffer offences because of this, but I know that it is a sure way to protect your health,” says Gabriela.

Sex work in Georgia is illegal and often police will confiscate condoms if they decide that a woman could be doing sex work.

Sex-workers and drugs

The research study showed that sex workers are well aware of HIV transmission when sharing needles and syringes. Besides, the recent study showed some interesting results concerning drug use. The share of sex-workers who used non-injecting drugs in the last 12 months was 11% in Tbilisi and 20% in Batumi. The most widely used non-injecting drugs were sleeping pills and sedatives in Tbilisi and marijuana in Batumi.

As for the injecting drugs, 1.5% of respondents in Tbilisi and 3.3% in Batumi injected drugs in the recent 12 months The respondents used ‘vint’, ‘jeff’ and amphetamines in Tbilisi and heroin in Batumi.

“Before, we did not have such data for sex-workers,” says Nino Tsereteli, researcher and head of Tanadgoma.

Women are getting out of sight

Gabriela says that she does not inject drugs but takes some pills. The woman has no problem to buy them in a pharmacy and uses substances at least once a week.

“The issue of drugs became relevant to this key population as well. We have been working with sex-workers for 20 years in five cities in Georgia and cover 3,000 people with our services annually. As for HIV/AIDS, during the period when we conducted the study only three women in Tbilisi were diagnosed with HIV. What is bad is that sometimes as soon as a woman learns that she has HIV, she is getting out of our sight and we do not know where she is and if she continues working with clients,” says Nino Tsereteli.

Gabriela promises that in September she will get tested for HIV with the help of Tanadgoma. She is not going to change her lifestyle, but she wants to know if everything is all right with her health. In Tanadgoma, she will get recommendations not only about HIV because, according to Nino Tsereteli, another problem of sex workers in Georgia is violence. Sex workers do not always know how they can organize themselves to protect their rights, health and lives. In Tanadgoma, they can get knowledge and support of professional lawyers.

Chase the virus, not the people! Campaign at AIDS 2018

Eastern Europe and Central Asia (EECA) remains the only region in the world where new HIV cases and AIDS deaths continue to grow rapidly. Low access to treatment, repressive legislation, stigma and discrimination of key populations, as well as the unwillingness of states to finance and ensure the sustainability of prevention programs in the EECA region, hinder an effective response to the epidemic.

The response to HIV in Eastern Europe and Central Asia will only be successful if decriminalization, destigmatization, zero discrimination and demedicalization are recognized as key needs of the communities. These aspects require comprehensive support from the global community, enhanced partnerships and immediate action by all stakeholders.

One of the AIDS 2018 objectives is to spotlight the state of the epidemic and the HIV response in Eastern Europe and Central Asia. It’s the right time and place to attract the attention of the whole world to the region and communities’ actions and to support them.

Therefore we, the team of regional community networks*, are joining forces in the campaign at AIDS 2018. Our slogan – Chase the virus, not people! Our goal is to present to the world the impact of repressive, discriminatory laws and practices of their application, as well as stigma against key populations and people living with HIV. To achieve obligations to create an enabling legal environment and to involve key populations and people living with HIV in decision-making processes. We are ready to show the negative consequences of the reduction in international support and to seek global assistance to mobilize resources for stabilizing the HIV/AIDS epidemic in the EECA region.

“Chase the virus, not people!” campaign aims at the common needs of all key populations and focuses on achieving the goals in general and for each community in particular.

The campaign key attribute is handcuffs, as a symbol of limited freedom and actions.

Support the campaign and the EECA region at AIDS 2018 and join its actions!

 How to support and join the campaign:

– insert the logo of our campaign into one of the slides of your presentation at the conference;

– bring handcuffs and put them on during the campaign events (number of handcuffs from organizers is limited);

– join the campaign during the March, the opening of the Global Village, the opening/closing sessions, plenaries on July 24 and 26, and the activities in EECA Networking Zone in the Global Village (pavilion 515);

– support flash mob – every day (time will be announced) in different parts of the Global Village;

– take a picture in handcuffs at the conference and place a photo with the hashtag of the campaign in social networks:

#chasethevirus

#chasevirus

#chasethevirusnotpeople

#chasevirusnotpeople.

Check the schedule of the campaign events and activities at www.chasevirus.org starting from July 7, 2018.

It’s time for joint actions!

*EECA communities team: Eurasian Coalition on Male Health (ECOM), East Europe and Central Asia Union of People Living with HIV (ECUO), EECA Sex Workers’ Alliance, Eurasian Harm Reduction Association (EHRA), Eurasian Network of People Who Use Drugs (ENPUD), Eurasian Union of Adolescents and Youth “Teenergizer”, Eurasian Women’s Network on AIDS (EWNA), Sex Workers’ Rights Advocacy Network (SWAN). Organizational partner – AFEW International (the Netherlands).

 

 

19 June: Second Edition of EECA Food and Art Night in Amsterdam

The second edition of PLOV ARTxFOODxCINEMA is coming to Amsterdam on 19 of June. Culinary experiences and cinematographic impressions of Eastern Europe, the Caucasus and Central Asia will come together during the event organised by the AFEW Culture Initiative in collaboration with the partners IDFA and Studio/K.

PROGRAMME

▹ 16.00 – 22.00: Four visual artists-in-residence (AiRs), Hanna Zubkova (Minsk/Paris), Hassan Kurbanbaev (Tashkent), Ilya Fedotov-Fedorov (Moscow) and Lado Darakhvelidze (Kutaisi/Arnhem) showcasing their ongoing artistic projects.

▹ 18.00 – 19.45: Two-course dinner (Armenian ajab sandal/ajapsandali (summer stew) and Georgian khachapuri (cheese pastry).

▹ 19.45 – 22.00: Documentary screening ‘When the Earth Seems to Be Light’ by Salome Machaidze, Tamuna Karumidze and David Meskhi (Georgia, 2015) & Q&A.

“Revolutionary skaters wreaking havoc in the streets of Tbilisi, stories of a vacated Red Light District brothel, photographic footage of Tashkent’s revolutionary youth, vegetarian-friendly Armenian Summer stews, popular mythologies of HIV/AIDS in a post-Soviet world, medicines vs poison, ChemSex and ‘slamming’ subcultures of Amsterdam, queer visibility in contemporary Uzbekistan and an explosion of dairy and cheese à la Georgian. These are just some of the ingredients of PLOV #2.

Young Georgian skaters, artists and musicians feel trapped between the powers of the Church and the political world. They create their own open spaces beneath viaducts and at other “non-places” that lend themselves to romantic notions of a free existence. Questions are posed to them about God, love and freedom, but these boys would much rather just be skating – for many of them it has grown into an obsession. They may be unfazed by painful falls, but narrow-mindedness really gets to them. One of them was bullied because of his hairstyle, and he explains that Georgians simply won’t accept people who look different. Many of their friends share their bleak vision of their country. The way they see it, Georgia is all about the old rather than the new. They get no acknowledgement here, so they spend their evenings throwing Molotov cocktails at a concrete slope. Their tattoos are “a diary you can’t escape from. You tattoo what you feel; what’s important for you at that moment.” The portraits of the skaters are based on a series of photos by David Meskhi, one of the three directors. This impression of their daily lives is intercut with news footage of demonstrations in Georgia.”

[Georgian language, English subtitles]

TICKETS

– Open atelier/showcase space is free of charge.
– Ticket €20,00 for dinner + documentary.
– Ticket €15,00 for dinner only.
– Ticket €9,50 for documentary only.

* Ask about student discounts when reserving.
** Cineville Pass discounts accepted [only pay for dinner option].

For reservations, please call 020 692 0422 (Studio /K) or email the AFEW Culture Initiative at judith_kreukels@AFEW.nl.

Subscribe to AFEW Culture Initiative‘s newsletter here, follow their Facebook and Instagram.

AFEW’s Statement: Do not Abandon the HIV-Fighters in Russia

It is urgently needed to continue working in Russia on the prevention and treatment of HIV. Now that the health situation in Russia is becoming critical, solidarity with the Russians and Russian non-governmental organizations (NGOs) is more necessary than ever. Policymakers, international donors and aid organizations must focus on what is still possible to combat HIV.

One million HIV infections

Russia has the highest number of new HIV infections in Eastern Europe and Central Asia. In January 2016, the number of people living with HIV exceeded the limit of one million. It is estimated that there are still 500,000 more people who do not know their diagnosis. Within this group, it is mainly the injecting drug users who contract HIV. This is the case with no less than 54% of the new HIV infections. Just like sex workers and lesbians, homosexual men, bisexuals and transgenders (LGBTs), this risk group faces stigmatization and discrimination that prevents from treatment and care.

Pragmatism works

NGOs are crucial to contain the HIV epidemic in Russia. It has been proven worldwide that this is successful. With the Dutch approach applied, no new HIV infections among drug users are added in the Netherlands. Among sex workers, there are now even fewer sexually transmitted diseases than among the students. A pragmatic and tolerant policy works everywhere.

Strengthening the capacity of local NGOs enables them to reach the groups that they work for and provide access to HIV care. Communication between local government and NGOs also gives drug users, sex workers and LGBT people a voice in developing a joint fight against the HIV epidemic.

Not easy

Unfortunately, Russian legislation against NGOs does not make it easy to come to a constructive approach. But it is possible. There are strong, knowledgeable and motivated organizations that stand up and provide care and assistance with limited financial resources. They need (financial) support and solidarity, because in almost no other Eastern European country international support for HIV control has been reduced so far. Moreover, after about 17 years of providing support in Eastern Europe and Central Asia, AFEW Network has learned that one should always continue to point out to the Russian authorities their responsibilities and the importance of NGOs.

Continue with HIV control

If we continue to only observe from a distance, the already difficult situation in Russia will deteriorate even further, with disastrous consequences for global health. We should not let this happen. There are numerous specialists who have the required knowledge and local authorities who simply want the best for their citizens. We therefore continue to focus on conducting dialogue and supporting grass roots organizations in Russia. For example, in February 2018 a delegation from Russia came to the Netherlands to learn how the government can give subsidies to NGOs. From trust building with the local Russian government and from humanity and pragmatism, much is still possible. It is with this in mind that we call on policy-makers, donors and aid organizations not to abandon the Russian HIV-fighters.