Mass media as partners in counteracting HIV/AIDS epidemic

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

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

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

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

Liudmila, what is the core of your project?

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

Could you tell us about the intermediate project results?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Who are the street lawyers?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The project is supported by the Elton John AIDS Foundation and Aidsfonds.

Support. Do not punish!

In June 2019, dozens of cities in the EECA region hosted the campaign «Support. Do not punish». Activists took to the streets to publicly protest against repressive drug policies.

This action, which is held annually all over the world, is a great chance to once again draw attention to this unresolved problem. How it was in the EECA region in 2019 you can read here.

Plans for 2020

Are you part of a collective, network or organisation advocating for drug policies that prioritise health and human rights? Are you planning to join the 2020 Support. Don’t Punish Global Day of Action and have an outstanding plan to build momentum? If your answer is “yes” then this call for applications might be for you!

Through this call, the Support. Don’t Punish campaign aims to identify and support local partners (up to 7) with funding of between USD 2,000 – 4,000 for strategic, creative and collaborative projects building up to the 2020 Global Day of Action that advance drug policy reform, bolster harm reduction and build bridges with/within/between communities disproportionately affected by the “war on drugs” (e.g. people who use drugs, farmers of crops deemed illicit, youth, ethnic minorities, LGBTQ+, among many others).

You can apply for the grant here.

What is “Support. Do not punish”?

Support. Don’t Punish is a global grassroots-centred initiative in support of harm reduction and drug policies that prioritise public health and human rights. The campaign seeks to put harm reduction on the political agenda by strengthening the mobilisation capacity of affected communities and their allies, opening dialogue with policy makers, and raising awareness among the media and the public.

The campaign’s yearly high point is the Global Day of Action, which takes place on, or around, 26th June (the International Day Against Drug Abuse and Illicit Trafficking). Historically, this date has been used by governments to showcase their drug control “achievements” in coercive terms. The campaign’s Global Day of Action seeks to reclaim and shift that day’s narrative. And so, every year, an increasing number of  activists in dozens of cities all over the world join this unique and multifaceted show of force for reform and harm reduction.

The Support. Don’t Punish campaign aligns with the following key messages

  • The drug control system is broken and in need of reform
  • People who use drugs should no longer be criminalised
  • People involved in the drug trade at low levels, especially those involved for reasons of subsistence or coercion, should not face harsh or disproportionate punishments
  • The death penalty should never be imposed for drug offences
  • Drug policy should focus on health, well-being and harm reduction
  • Drug policy budgets need rebalancing to ensure health and harm reduction-based responses are adequately financed.

 

Facts abour EECA region

HIV epidemic status in Eastern Europe and Central Asia (UNAIDS, 2017)

Since the start of the epidemic:
• Over 76 million HIV-infected patients registered
• 35.0 million people died of AIDS-related illnesses
• The number of people living with HIV was 36.7 million, of which 2.1 million were children under the age of 15.
• 20.9 million people (28%) living with HIV received treatment
• 76% of pregnant women living with HIV had access to treatment to prevent transmission of the virus to the fetus
• In 2017, 1.8 million new HIV infections were reported worldwide.

Have you already registered your abstracts for the EECA INTERACT 2019 workshop?

Attention! Selected abstracts will get free registration. Please find here more information. 

School for People Living with HIV

Today, the community of people living with HIV (PLWH) in Kazakhstan is actively developing – the voice of community can now be heard at all levels, up to the Ministry of Health and the Parliament.

An important role in achieving this progress belongs to the events for potential activists organized by the Kazakhstan Union of PLWH together with AFEW Kazakhstan. One of them is a series of workshops called “School for People Living with HIV”. Such workshops are aimed at developing the community of PLWH to scale up the advocacy to promote their rights and interests and ensure care and support for PLWH at the local and national levels. They are organized with financial support of the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria within the project “Building Foundation for Sustainable HIV Response in Kazakhstan”. Yagdar Turekhanov, Program Advisor at AFEW Kazakhstan, told about the progress achieved.

 

Yagdar, what is the School for PLWH and how was it established?

The first workshop of the School for PLWH was held in November 2018 and brought together over 50 PLWH from all over the country. They were “newbies” – most of them just recently learned about their HIV status and did not have any experience of working in HIV organizations. People were enrolled after a competitive selection by motivation letters. It was a basic workshop where the participants learned about HIV, its treatment, and the role of civil society. They also received support in accepting their HIV status, bolstered their self-esteem and confidence. Following the first workshop, 25 most active participants who demonstrated their leadership skills, were selected. The goal of those workshops was to train a young generation of activists and to mobilize the regions to make the PLWH community of Kazakhstan act in a more targeted and coordinated way.

How would you describe the profile of the school participants?

Most trainees of the school are people who earlier had an experience of participating in similar activities, mobilized their peers and established local NGOs, making a significant contribution to the promotion of PLWH rights, reduction of the ART prices, etc.

What is the situation with PLWH rights in Kazakhstan?

The situation is different, and currently it greatly depends on separate individuals – friendly specialists, doctors, police officers, and workers of penitentiary facilities – as well as on the bravery and knowledge of the activists. Where such people are not numerous, the situation with observing the PLWH rights is disastrous.

What should a person do in case if his or her rights are violated?

Be brave enough to talk about it. File the case. Make a precedent. For this purpose, the person may ask more experienced community members and friendly lawyers for help.

Since 2019, Kazakhstan started using the ‘test and treat’ strategy. What does it mean?

For Kazakhstan, this approach, first of all, means breaking the stereotypes, challenging the traditional perceptions and the wide-spread myths about ART. It means fighting the “bonuses schemes”, when people take therapy only to get some incentives, but not because they see the linkage between ART and better quality of life. It includes working with health professionals, who can formally observe the protocols, but in some indirect ways, with their intonations, phrases, or even directly make their patients understand that they do not believe in what they do. E.g., they can often say something like “According to the new rules, I have to prescribe therapy to you, but you can refuse, all the more so because you have pretty good test results and those drugs are chemical anyway” or “I realize that you want to give birth to a child, but still you have to think twice as your husband has HIV and even if he does not transmit the virus to you – what will be the future of your child?” We try to change this kind of approach.

Is there a place for innovations in the PLWH community of Kazakhstan?

The active part of PLWH community is, of course, open to innovations – they are ready to introduce new approaches as soon as they learn about them or come up with them. Most of the general population are kind, empathetic people who are totally unaware of the modern scientific achievements in terms of HIV prevention and treatment. They are afraid for themselves and for their loved ones, thinking that HIV is a death sentence. Many people still think that HIV is transmitted through household contacts (“I know that HIV is not transmitted through air or touch, but just in case I would better protect my children from contacts with HIV-infected people”). It looks like this situation can only be changed by young people who are in their nature more open to new things, more tolerant and less prejudiced. Efforts aimed at young people, primarily at the students of medical colleges and universities, with the involvement of PLWH community, can gradually change the status quo. By the way, it is already happening – slowly but surely.

Will there be any workshops in future? Who will be able to participate in them?

Funding of such activities is currently very doubtful – donors gradually lose their interest to Kazakhstan, while attracting government funding is so far rather challenging. However, PLWH community is looking for new opportunities. Apart from the Schools for PLWH, PLWH camping events are held on a regular basis, where people more and more often pay for their own participation. Information about such events is shared through HIV NGOs, AIDS centers, social networks and messengers. The priority is given to “novices”. More experienced PLWH community members can try on the role of trainers after passing a competitive selection.

 

 

 

 

 

EECA INTERACT 2019

We are pleased to announce that, on the 18-19th November 2019, the first EECA INTERACT Workshop 2019 will take place in Almaty, Kazakhstan.

The EECA INTERACT 2019 Workshop builds scientific research capacity while simultaneously strengthening clinical, prevention, and research networks across the Eastern Europe and Central Asia (EECA) region. EECA INTERACT 2019 is an abstract-driven workshop focusing on factors unique to the region’s HIV, TB, and hepatitis epidemics. Bringing young and bright researchers together with top scientists, clinicians, and policymakers, EECA INTERACT 2019 aims to ignite a conversation that will build a stronger scientific base to serve the region and connect to the world.

EECA is the only region in the world where the HIV epidemic continues to rise rapidly. UNAIDS estimates point to a 57% increase in annual new HIV infections between 2010 and 2015.1 The World Health Organization has warned of a sharp rise in rate of HIV and tuberculosis coinfection, which poses a real threat to progress.2 Significant barriers to prevention and treatment services remain for people living with and affected by HIV, TB, and hepatitis across the region. For example, although the HIV epidemic in EECA is concentrated predominantly among key populations, particularly among people who inject drugs, coverage of harm-reduction and other prevention programs is insufficient to reduce new infections. The region urgently needs more effective strategies of prevention, treatment, and care and support that are tailored to the particular circumstances of individual countries.

The Amsterdam Institute of Global Health and Development (AIGHD) has over a decade of experience delivering in-country workshops and conferences that bring young researchers and established international experts together to share original research and state-of-the-art reviews on a wide range of topics. AIGHD has co-hosted the INTEREST Conference (the International Workshop on HIV Treatment, Pathogenesis, and Prevention Research in Resource-limited Settings) since its inception in 2007. The conference has grown from a small workshop to a full conference of more than 500 attendees each year.

Building on these proven results, AIGHD will collaborate closely with AFEW International and the AFEW network (AFEW) for EECA INTERACT 2019. AFEW’s deep roots and experience in the region offer a way to build sustainability into the new workshop, placing priority on local contributions. The EECA INTERACT 2019 will bring scientists, clinicians, members of civil society, and government officials together to tackle topics facing individual countries while building capacity and strengthening research and clinical networks. The two-day conference will focus on topics that are specifically relevant to EECA and dive deeply into particularities of the host country Kazakhstan, showcasing its successes, remaining challenges and responses.

The workshop objectives are:

  • To provide cutting-edge knowledge in the fields of epidemiology (modelling), treatment, pathogenesis, and prevention of HIV, TB, and viral hepatitis as well as chronic conditions;
  • To exchange ideas on providing and supporting HIV testing services and clinical care provision to adults, adolescents, and children living with HIV to achieve 90-90-90 goals;
  • To foster new research interactions among leading investigators and those who represent the potential future scientific leadership for health care and research in the region;
  • To build research and clinical capacity across EECA.

We invite researchers from EECA to submit their abstracts in the workshop. Selected abstracts will get free registration. Please find here more information.
Interested parties who do not have abstracts, but also wish to attend the event, can fill in an application form that will be considered by the committee. Please find here more information.

The deadline for all applications is September 20, 2019.

EECA INTERACT 2019 is organized by AFEW International, Amsterdam Institute for Global Health & Development (AIGHD), AFEW Kazakhstan and the Kazakh Scientific Center of Dermatology and Infectious Diseases.

EECA INTERACT 2019 is sponsored by Johnson & Johnson, Gilead, Aidsfonds.

Venue of the event: Hotel Mercure Almaty City Center.

#EECAINTRACT2019

If you have any further questions, please contact Helena_Arntz@AFEW.nl.

 

 

Rehabilitation in a Dutch Way: Learning to Take Responsibility for Yourself and for Others

Author: Olesya Kravchuk, AFEW International

The ferry boat brings people to the island Texel in the Netherlands several times per day. Just a few minutes’ walk from the ferry stop there are several cosy houses. Near one of the houses, there is a hedge, behind which there are three goats. They are not afraid of visitors, and immediately come up to you and check you out. Residents of the house clean its territory and cook dinner. It is the usual Dutch routine, but the atmosphere is somehow different…

For more than 40 years already de Skuul Foundation (Stichting de Skuul) has been working on the island. It is an independent institution that specialises in assisting in the rehabilitation of people who take drugs. They also help those who have alcohol and gambling addictions.

“The fact that our residents are on the island creates a special atmosphere. In this way, they stay in a neutral environment,” says Aglaia Westra who works as a therapist at the Foundation. She has been working here for six years. “There are usually 16 residents who live here, and they live in a mini-society. They form the groups of eight people, and everyone has a task for every day. Someone, for example, goes to buy food, someone cleans the territory, and someone cooks food. That is how they learn to take responsibility for themselves and for others.”

The main thing is not to lose touch with reality

The clients of the Foundation come here after the referral of their general practitioner. De Skuul is financed via the insurance companies, local government and business representatives. In order to get into the rehabilitation programme, you need to go through the detox programme already at home. The first four weeks of their stay in De Skuul, its residents stay only on the island. After four weeks you can (and even have to) go home for the weekend. Foundation employees say that it is very important not to lose touch with reality. During the rehabilitation programme, its participants work with a psychotherapist. They also have visiting teachers who teach them singing, drawing and other crafts. The programme starts every day at 9 am and lasts until five in the evening. In the evening, the Foundation’s residents live their normal lives: they jog, read and walk by at the Wadden Sea that surrounds the island.

There are also rules here: violence and cruelty, drugs and alcohol, and mobile phones are prohibited. It is necessary to respect others and to be present during all activities within the rehabilitation programme. Violation of these rules leads to the end of rehabilitation.

“We have group sessions. Usually, it starts with one person is talking, and it becomes more like a monologue,” tells Aglaya. “We believe that everyone builds their own way while experiencing their own feelings and emotions. We use the principle of self-help and trust residents in how they lead their lives and what they do in their free time. The most important thing is that we teach responsibility. It is like a kindergarten, where you can try everything and learn again.”

The period after rehabilitation is harder than the period before it

The Foundation’s clients say that they came here to get acquainted with themselves again and to get away from their addiction. They say only good things about the rehabilitation programme. The hardest part starts when you return back home.

“I came here only yesterday,” says Linda from the Netherlands (the name is changed) with the tears in her eyes. “This is not my first rehabilitation programme, and I very much hope that this programme will help me. Working with yourself during the rehabilitation period is not that hard. Then you follow the same pattern at home. Later though it comes the time when you go back to your old habits. I think it very important to combine treatment with reality, and de Skuul is doing this.”

Every year about 50 people are being treated in the Foundation. On average, de Skuul accepts one new person per week. Each resident stays in the programme on average for 3-6 months. Each resident himself decides when his rehabilitation ends. After the programme, if necessary, ex-residents can always call Foundation employees and ask for help. Every six weeks, former residents come to the Foundation if they want to share their experiences and hear the stories of others.

Treatment based on commitment and not punishment

The rehabilitation centre Kentra24 in the city of Sint-Oedenrode in the Dutch province of Brabant is located in an old monastery. On the windows here, there is old religious stained glass, and in the inner monastery courtyard you can meet your new friends. Young people between the ages of 12 and 24 years old who cannot control their stimulants or gambling addiction have their rehabilitation here. The rehabilitation programme includes preventive, outpatient, clinical and online assistance. At the same time here there can be 40 clients for whom about 80 employees provide services. Not all customers in the centre spend nights here, some only have a daily programme. Both boys and girls are undergoing rehabilitation.

“Most of our clients are in the centre voluntarily, but sometimes someone comes after a court decision,” says Judith who works in the centre. “We want the parents of young people who have treatment with us to be also involved in the rehabilitation process. But those adolescents who are already over 18 decide themselves how much they want to involve their parents.”

There are four groups of clients in the centre. The first group is those who undergo a detox, and all the other groups are undergoing rehabilitation. Young clients of the centre have four phases of rehabilitation: zero phase is the most strict one, the third phase is the one during which there is more freedom. For example, during the zero phase it is impossible to leave the territory of the centre, but in the third phase this can already be earned as a reward. Moving to the next phase is possible by showing good behaviour and progress in the rehabilitation process. Usually, the clients stay in the centre for 3-4 months.

“Our treatment is based on commitment and not punishment. Each of our clients has his own goal and is working towards achieving this goal,” continues Judith. “If the goal is achieved, the client gets the reward. For instance, this can be some additional time online, or purchase of the new bike, or visit of the parents with a favourite pet, or additional phone call, and much more.”

Not to have an addiction is already a success

Each of those clients who stay in the centre overnight has their own private room, where other clients are not allowed. For communication, there is a joint living room with a kitchen, where clients prepare their own food. The rehabilitation programme also includes sports at the local gym, creative workshops, work on various projects, setting goals for the week and homework. There are rules: customers cannot freely use their phones or computers.

“I decided to come here because I realised that my life was going all wrong,” says 20-year-old Jan (the name is changed). “Because I used drugs, I started to close up and drifted away from my parents and my younger sister. It feels like I lost three years of my life. After the rehabilitation programme I plan to finish school, start working and living independently. It is my goal.”

The staff of the centre understands that after the rehabilitation programme some of their clients will still use drugs or alcohol and they are loyal to this.

“After all, the main thing is not to stop taking drugs, but to know why you are doing this,” says centre employee Steve. “If there is such understanding and after the programme a person will take drugs or alcohol sometimes, and not have an addiction – this is already a success.”

United Nations and World Leaders Condemned for Failure on Drug Policy, Health and Human Rights

Wednesday 1 May,  2019, Porto

As the 26th International Harm Reduction Conference comes to a close, hundreds of health professionals, academics, drug policy and human rights experts, frontline workers and people who use drugs released a statement calling on world leaders to urgently address the health and human rights crisis among people who use drugs.

Signatory NGOs shed light on the alarming public health emergency faced by people who use drugs. Between 2009 and 2015, the number of drug-related deaths rose by a worrying 60%. In 2015 alone, this culminated in a total of 450,000 deaths – an estimated 50 deaths every hour. The target to halve the incidence of HIV among people who inject drugs by 2015, set eight years ago, was spectacularly missed by 80%, and HIV prevalence increased by one third among people who inject drugs over the same period. Furthermore, globally, six in ten people who use drugs are living with hepatitis C, while 168,000 people who use drugs were reported to have died of an overdose in 2015 alone.

These health harms are preventable. The evidence, presented at the Conference this week, shows that harm reduction and human rights-centred drug policies can save lives, prevent the spread of HIV and hepatitis C, and promote the dignity and empowerment of people who use drugs. But this requires leadership from both governments and the UN.

Naomi Burke-Shyne, Executive Director of Harm Reduction International (HRI), said: ‘The evidence for harm reduction is indisputable. It is nothing short of disgraceful that governments continue to fail to support and invest in health services for some of the most marginalised people‘.

The joint NGO statement also expresses serious concerns over the ability of the UN Office of Drugs and Crime (UNODC) to adequately lead the UN response on this issue. By its very mandate and construction, the UNODC remains more attuned to the law enforcement response to drugs. As a result, UNODC leadership has consistently failed to unequivocally champion harm reduction, human rights and decriminalisation,and has lost further creditability with repeated silence in the face of egregious human rights violations. Today, people who use drugs continue to be victims of incarceration, compulsory detention, denial of access to healthcare, corporal punishment, institutionalised violence, stigma and discriminations, and – in the most extreme cases – extrajudicial killings.

In response to the vacuum of political leadership, NGOs conveying in Porto have called for global leadership to protect the human rights of a ‘population under attack’ and demanded that these unacceptable human rights abuses to come to an end.

Ann Fordham, Executive Director of the International Drug Policy Consortium (IDPC), stated: ‘With just over ten years left for countries to meet their global commitment to champion health, reduce inequalities, and provide access to justice for all, as enshrined in the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals, there has never been a more urgent need to strengthen political leadership at all levels. Faced with the current crisis, complacency can no longer be tolerated’. 

Source: https://idpc.net/

Increased Access to Healthcare Facilities for Pregnant Women who Use Drugs in Kyrgyzstan

A total of 8,392 people living with HIV (PLHIV) were registered in the Kyrgyz Republic on 1 July 2018. Transmission of HIV is connected to drug use. Recently, sexual transmission has become a popular mode of transmission as well. While the total registered injecting HIV cases have decreased by almost 30% over the past nine years (2008-2017), the incidence of drug use in certain regions of Kyrgyzstan remains high. Moreover, the number of new HIV cases among women increased by almost 10% over the past nine years (2008-2017).

In Kyrgyzstan, women who use drugs still have limited access to obstetrics-gynaecology services and often face stigma and discrimination from the medical staff. With a lack of knowledge among doctors on how to best support and treat pregnant women with substance dependence, women were sent to abortion clinics even after the acceptable period for termination of pregnancy. In general, it was not known that women who use drugs could get healthy children. Women who use drugs themselves were also afraid to be denied medical care when doctors would find out they used drugs.

A working group composed of the Kyrgyz community-led organisation (CBO) Asteria and representatives of the Ministry of Health, National Centre of the mother and child protection, National Narcology Centre, and State Institute of postgraduate education and a specialist on evidence for medicine was set up and coordinated by AFEW Kyrgyzstan.  A new clinical protocol was developed reflecting the needs of women who use drugs under the guidance of these women themselves. The clinical protocol Care in pregnancy, childbirth and the puerperium for women who use psychoactive substances was developed and approved as a Clinical Guideline by Kyrgyz Ministry of Health in January of 2017.

Medical staff in Kyrgyzstan was subsequently trained on implementation of the guideline. A representative of the Kyrgyz State Medical Institute for post-graduates reported that the knowledge of the doctors increased by 80% after trainings have been carried out. So far, 100 staff of the medical Institute and gynaecologists at the primary health care and maternity hospitals of Bishkek and Osh have been trained.  The implementation of the clinical guideline is under control of the Ministry of Health of Kyrgyz Republic. Stigma and discrimination from health care providers and policymakers against women who use drugs have decreased significantly. Service providers now understand better that proper care during pregnancy for all is a chance for improving the health of mother and child.

“I used drugs for 10 years, was detained several times, was released, and lived without documents. Then I joined the Opioid Substitution Therapy (OST) programme, restored my documents, got a job, got married. When I applied for medical services when I was pregnant, the doctor insisted on an abortion, saying that the child would be born inferior. I gave birth; the child is healthy, now he is 2 years old and 7 months”.

L. PF Podruga, Osh, a client of a community centre for women who use drugs

With the support of the Bridging the Gaps programme, it was possible to integrate harm reduction with sexual reproductive health and rights for women who use drugs. Sustainability of the guideline’s implementation has been secured thanks to the inclusion in the National Medical Institute of Postgraduate Education and the World Health Organisation’s Compendium of good practices in the health sector response to HIV in the WHO European Region. AFEW-Kyrgyzstan closely monitors the implementation of the guideline.

Pain Relief: Ukraine is on the Way to Legalizing Medical Marijuana

Authors: Yuliana Skibitskaya, Yana Kazmirenko, Ukraine

Ukraine may become the 14th European country to allow the use of medical cannabis. Activists are looking forward to the next move – drug policy liberalization.

Ukraine has taken the path of legalizing medical cannabis. In two months, a petition registered on the Ukrainian parliament’s website has collected 25,000 signatures, which makes it mandatory for MPs to review it. According to the petition’s authors, about two million Ukrainian citizens currently have no access to this effective therapy, which can help people with cancer, war veterans and patients in palliative care. Ulana Suprun, acting minister of health of Ukraine, also supports the legalization of medical marijuana. She says that the “rational” use of cannabis for medical purposes is legitimate. It is expected to be made available in pharmacies by prescription.

The draft law may be considered in May-June

The civil society movement for legalizing medical marijuana is led by the NGO 100% Life, the Ukrainian Association of Medical Cannabis, and 16 other civil society organizations.

On 20 March 2019, the relevant parliamentary committee considered the petition but failed to support it as there was no quorum at the session. MPs appealed to the Cabinet of Ministers with a suggestion to amend the current list of narcotic substances, which prohibits the use of cannabis in Ukraine for medical and research purposes. Cannabis would still be considered a narcotic drug but would be allowed for medical use.

“The Human Rights Committee supported the petition. Now MPs have a free hand, they can register a draft law based on the petition,” says one of the authors and leader of 100% Life, Dmitry Sherembey. “There is a group of MPs which supports us. We expect that in May-July the draft law may be registered and considered by the current parliament.” (In autumn Ukraine will hold parliamentary elections – note of editor).

Another author of the petition, Gennadiy Shabas, who heads the Ukrainian Association of Medical Cannabis, says the law should clearly define the rules of using cannabis for medical and research purposes in order to avoid any risks.

Medical marijuana may be used in HIV treatment

There have long been attempts to legalize medical marijuana in Ukraine, but significant progress was achieved only last year when the Ministry of Health openly supported civil society activists. For several years in a row, Cannabis Marches of Freedom have been held in Kyiv, with participants calling on the government to legalize cannabis.

Medical marijuana helps patients with cancer and Alzheimer’s disease, but can also be used for HIV therapy. Apart from the fact that medical cannabis relieves pain, scientists have discovered that people living with HIV who smoke marijuana have higher CD4 counts and lower viral load compared to patients who do not use this kind of therapy. Cannabinoids also help to tolerate opioids, which are often prescribed to AIDS patients. Marijuana prolongs the pain-alleviating effect, improves appetite and prevents tolerance and addiction to “hard” drugs.

Dmitry Sherembey explains that marijuana removes pain syndrome so that the body can direct its resources not at overcoming pain, but at fighting infection. Thus, cannabis not only makes life easier for patients, but it also improves their prognosis for fighting the disease, especially in the case of cancer.

“For instance, even if doctors gave a patient only three months, his prognosis may be improved by up to three years,” he says.

Legalization to reduce stigma

Velta Parkhomenko, the coordinator of the Ukrainian Union of People Who Use Drugs and manager of the NGO Eney Club, thinks that amending legal regulations on the use of medical cannabis is an important step for Ukraine in general, and especially for the community of people who use drugs.

“Legalization of medical cannabis will allow us to accelerate the process of humanizing drug policy. We are convinced that the fewer myths and stereotypes there are around psychoactive substances, the simpler it will be for us to talk about the problems of people who use drugs,” says Velta.

Another argument she offers is that legalizing medical marijuana will reduce stigma and discrimination and reaffirm the widely-recognised fact that drug dependence is not a crime but a chronic, recurring disease.

The activist hopes that the process will not stop with medical cannabis. The next logical steps should be to humanize drug policy, amend the table of maximum allowed quantities of narcotic drugs, and introduce changes in legislation.

Medical marijuana does not alter awareness and does not affect mental states

Medical marijuana is a medicine based on the active components contained in cannabis. The truth is that not all cannabinoids have a narcotic effect. That is why medical marijuana, as opposed to other types of marijuana, does not alter awareness or affect mental states. It may be administered in different ways, such as traditional smoking as well as pills, oils and other pharmaceutical forms.

Today, medical cannabis is mainly brought to Ukraine from neighbouring Poland, where it is sold in pharmacies. However, at present importing cannabinoid-containing medicines to Ukraine is equivalent to drug trafficking.

The ‘Vienna Consensus’ Stifles Progress on UN Drug Policy

The International Drug Policy Consortium (IDPC), a global network of more than 180 NGOs that come together to promote drug policies that are based on human rights, human security, social inclusion and public health, express our disappointment with, and concerns about, the Ministerial Declaration ‘Strengthening our actions at the national, regional and international levels to accelerate the implementation of our joint commitments to address and counter the world drug problem’, adopted today in Vienna by the United Nations.

While we acknowledge that the statement represents limited progress in some areas, we regret that it repeats the mistakes of the past and was negotiated in the absence of a genuine and honest evaluation of the past decade, since the adoption of the 2009 Political Declaration and Action Plan on Drugs.

In the lead up to this Ministerial Segment, IDPC called repeatedly on Member States to formally and honestly evaluate progress made towards the overarching goal, in the 2009 Political Declaration, to significantly reduce or eliminate the illicit drug market, as well as in the implementation of the UNGASS Outcome Document. Unfortunately, a formal and comprehensive review of the past decade of drug policies was not conducted by governments or the UNODC. The lack of appetite for a formal review illustrates the fact that governments are still unable to accept that decades of attempting to eradicate the global illicit drug market through punitive and repressive measures have failed.

In the void left by the lack of such a review, IDPC produced a civil society ‘shadow report’ titled Taking stock: A decade of drug policy which clearly demonstrates the impossibility of credibly claiming any progress made to date, given that the illicit drug market is larger and more robust than ever before, while drug-related and devastating policy harms are on the rise. Ten years ago, the previous UNODC Executive Director, Mr. Costa had already referred to the ‘unintended negative consequences’ of drug control as part of the previous 10-year review – that paper is unfortunately as relevant today as it was ten years ago.

Ahead of the 2019 Ministerial Segment, the IDPC network had developed four policy recommendations which remain relevant for our assessment of the Ministerial Declaration adopted today.

Read full statement in English here.

Source: www.idpc.net