Drug Policy Reform in Georgia – Any Reason for Optimism – Part I

Author: Irma Kakhurashvili, Georgia

The Georgian drug policy calls for radical changes. Currently, it is aimed at the strict punishment of drug users and their isolation from the society. Data of the 2016 Council of Europe report show that every third prisoner in Georgia is convicted for drug-related crimes. However, such repressive approaches do not make people quit drugs. In prisons, people suffer from the abstinence syndrome and lose their health as well as years of their lives. Authorities think that the prison “cures” people, but according to the research studies by Human Rights Education and Monitoring Centre (EMC), 89% of drug users go back to drugs after they are released. The rest of them return to their drug using habits within 11 months.

According to the Georgian Ministry of Corrections and Probation, support of people convicted for drug-related crimes costs the government up to GEL 40 million (or about EUR 12.5 million) a year, while the Ministry of Health spends only GEL 4 million (or about EUR 1.25 million) on drug treatment and rehabilitation, including substitution therapy, which is 10 times less.

At the same time, the government spends more money to identify and arrest drug users than to treat and rehabilitate them. Prison stay of one person convicted for drug-related crimes costs the state GEL 12 thousand (about EUR 3.8 thousand) a year, while treatment of one person costs only GEL 2.2 thousand (about EUR 690) a year, which is 5.5 times less.

Many people agree with the fact that the Georgian drug policy does not stand up to criticism. Apparently, the government also agrees with it – the governing party Georgian Dream wrote about the need of drug policy liberalization in its pre-election programme in 2012, but in fact, there have been no major changes in the situation. Humanizing draft laws are lost in the parliamentary labyrinths, leaving no trace, and the statistics on the number of injecting drug users grows – in the recent seven years it went up from 40,000 to 52,500 people (data of Bemoni NGO and Curatio International Foundation).

Georgia could become a part of drug-trafficking transit chain

In Georgian history, the use of cannabis as a narcotic drug is first mentioned in the XIII century – the king of Georgia Lasha-Giorgi sometimes used it. However, none of the historical sources mentions Georgia as a producer of drugs, though, considering its geographical location, there has always been a risk of the country becoming a part of the drug-trafficking transit chain. It happened in the 90s, when drugs were coming from Afghanistan and Central Asia to Europe. Part of such drugs remained in Georgia, which increased drug use in the country.

In this period, police was the main agency responsible for countering drugs, with punishment considered as the most effective method of “help.” Though drug users were able to access voluntary treatment, there was no integrated, people-centred and human rights-based prevention and rehabilitation system. Escalation of drug use was caused by social, political and economic developments in the country – the war in Abkhazia, aggravating the criminal situation, corruption, economic collapse, crisis of values in the society and unemployment.

The 90s were also associated with the onset of the HIV epidemic. The first case of HIV in Georgia was registered in 1989. Now the estimated number of people living with HIV in the country is about 12,000 people. About 5,000 of them are aware of their HIV status.

Regional centres and counselling rooms

For many years, injecting drug use was the main route of HIV transmission. That is why drug use gradually turned out to be not only a social and criminal issue, but also a health issue.

Since 1997, led by the Public Health Department, the Scientific Research Institute of Narcology started implementation of the State Drug Abuse Prevention Programme. However, most resources allocated for the programme were used to cover drug tests. The average of just GEL 250-200 thousand a year, and since 2005 – GEL 50 thousand a year were used to cover other areas of activities. For example, a network of drug services was created – 10 regional drug centres and 21 regional drug counselling rooms.

As the year 2000 approached, the drug laws did not change, but the first harm reduction programmes were already implemented. A number of non-governmental organizations started “field” work to exchange syringes for drug users. It was a difficult job as social workers had to overcome the resistance of police, on the one hand, and gain the trust of drug users, on the other hand.

On 5 December 2002, the Georgian Parliament adopted a law on drugs, psychotropic substances, precursors and drug treatment, which came into force in March 2003. The main principle defining the new laws was the maximum restriction of the purchase and use of drugs, while recognizing drug users as people who need treatment. The new law defined obligations of the government to drug users – it had to provide drug users with expertise, diagnostics, treatment and rehabilitation. However, due to the economic crisis, it was impossible within the state programme.

Heterosexual route of transmission is leading

According to the Scientific Research Institute of Narcology, the number of officially registered drug users grew nine-fold from 1990 to 2004. By the end of 2004, 24,000 people were officially registered as drug users. However, according to the estimates, the real number of people who use drugs is much higher – 200-240 thousand, including 80-90 thousand of people who inject drugs.

In 2003, Georgia received a grant from the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria and started to successfully fight communicable diseases. As a result, Georgia became the only country in Eastern Europe and among post-Soviet states with an absolute accessibility of antiretroviral drugs for people with HIV/AIDS. All people who need treatment and who are citizens of Georgia can access it. At the same time, the country started implementing a methadone programme, which has been supported from the state budget since 2008. Currently, over 9,000 people participate in the programme (7 sites in Tbilisi and 9 – in other regions).

Thanks to the harm reduction and methadone programmes, the rate of HIV transmission among injecting drug users went down in 2011-2017. Today, the biggest route of HIV transmission is heterosexual – 45.2%, while injecting drug use accounts for 41.6% of new HIV cases.

In the second part of our article, we will tell about the role of civil society organizations and activists in the promotion of harm reduction programmes and drug policy changes.

AIDS 2018: Ukraine is Looking for Expertise and Technologies

Author: Yana Kazmirenko, Ukraine

At AIDS 2018 to be held in Amsterdam, Ukraine will be the focus of attention. It is one of the leading countries in terms of HIV transmission, with half of people living with HIV not knowing their status and the war in the east of the country combined with hundreds of thousands of migrants contributing to the aggravation of the situation with HIV. Our article highlights what expectations representatives of Ukraine have from AIDS 2018 and what experiences they are ready to share.

Olena Voskresenska, Director of AFEW-Ukraine

Expectations from AIDS 2018

I hope that the conference will help to draw attention to the region of Eastern Europe and Central Asia, in particular to Ukraine. Our country is interested in the experience of countries, which have a social contracting mechanism for non-governmental organisations because NGOs currently play a key role in the delivery of services to the populations most vulnerable to HIV and the support that comes from the governmental budget to these services will be most relevant for Ukraine after withdrawal of the Global Fund.

Opportunities of the conference

AFEW-Ukraine plans to learn about the promising models of work with our target populations, primarily aimed at young people. We are going to share our experience of working with adolescents who use drugs.

This year we have been able to support our partners from the regions of Ukraine, including programme clients and community members, who will take part in the conference. Using the experience of other countries, through joint efforts we will improve our activities in Ukraine.

Vira Varyga, Chair of the Board of Positive Women NGO, leader of the self-help group for HIV-positive women, Kyianka+

Expectations from AIDS 2018

This will be my first time to participate in a conference of such level. We will share the experience of the self-help group for HIV-positive women, Kyianka+, where we provide services to women living with HIV, helping them to accept their status and overcome stigma.

The model that we apply is patented in the Netherlands. It is based on personal development and leadership. The woman not only accepts her own status, she also helps others and is involved in the life of the group, in the advocacy and representation of the community interests.

Opportunities of the conference

We would like to learn about the new methods of work with women, about prevention, treatment and diagnostics. We hope that the participants will appreciate our social theatre, where the mime performance and direction are the products of creative activities of the Kyianka+ members.

At the conference, we will also offer some hand-made items produced by our activists for sale. The money we earn will be used to support the women who are hospitalized and do not have resources to pay for their treatment.

Nataliia Isaieva, Director of All-Ukrainian Charitable Organization, Legalife-Ukraine

Expectations from AIDS 2018

Taking part in the Amsterdam conference, I plan to achieve two goals: first, study the experience of countries from which the Global Fund has withdrawn. In Ukraine, there is an alarming trend: the Global Fund withdrawal leads to the collapse of the health care system to vulnerable populations’ support. For instance, we lack friendly gynaecologists. Sex workers cannot go to public clinics as they hide vital information about their occupation and therefore they will not receive adequate treatment.

The second question, which is very important for us, are the increased restrictions of working conditions. Commercial sex services and human trafficking are more and more undesirable linked with each other and this often is leading to serious consequences for the sex-workers. USA adopted SESTA-FOSTA legislation, which intends to curb sex trafficking but has as a consequence that it prohibits offering sex services via internet. Such laws make it impossible for sex workers to look for their clients online so they are forced to go back on the streets, risking their lives and health. The “crackdown” trend is typical not only for the United States, so we need to offer a joint strategy to confront such “crackdown” policies.

Igor Medvid, HPLGBT coordinator, involved in social activism since 2004

Expectations from AIDS 2018

At the conference in Amsterdam, I will present a thesis based on the findings of “The study of behaviours of transgender persons and their needs for HIV prevention services in Ukraine.” We interviewed 438 people and currently, it is the biggest study in Eastern Europe and Central Asia. The study showed that the HIV prevalence among transgender persons is up to 21%. 91% of transgender persons provided sex services at least once. At the same time, the level of condom use is extremely low – 69% of respondents did not use condoms during the last intercourse. This study allowed us getting statistical data and receiving a Global Fund grant. Without the support of AFEW we would not be able to conduct the study.

Now we are opening a regional office, launching a site, making efforts to increase the visibility of transgender people. Before the end of this year, we would like to introduce a member of our population to the Country Coordinating Mechanism.

Another objective that I have for the conference is to learn as much as I can about the cross-cutting activities because transgender people fall into three groups: MSM, sex workers, and people who inject drugs.

Aleksandr Mogylka, Director of the Compas day care centre for adolescents who practise risky behaviours (division of the Blago Kharkiv Charitable Foundation)

AIDS 2018 is…

…a global-scale event, which can be compared to the major film festivals, air and motor shows. The only difference is that at the conference apart from successes and achievements we will also be talking about the ways to overcome challenges. It is good to watch films, drive cars and feel proud of the achievements in aircraft or spacecraft engineering when you are healthy.

The problem of HIV/AIDS may not be resolved only by fighting the virus. It may be resolved by changing the attitude to this issue and by changing people’s attitudes to themselves. Many countries have already taken such steps and reduced the risk of development of the epidemic.

Opportunities of the conference

We would like to learn about the best practices in fighting HIV and to share the experience of our organization in involving law enforcement agencies in HIV prevention among most-at-risk adolescents.

A police reform has been implemented in Ukraine and adolescents now see the police as something new and interesting. Our objective was to unite the resources of NGOs and police to prevent the use of drugs, which often lead to experiments in sexual relations. Building trust relations between adolescents and police contributed to the formation of a city mechanism to refer adolescents to the network of partner organizations formed at the initiative of the Foundation.

Unconventional formats of cooperation between the police and civil society organizations can help to change the behaviours of adolescents.

Natalia Bezeleva, Executive Director, Svitanok Donetsk Charitable Organization

AIDS 2018 is…

…an opportunity to show yourself to the world and access the best international practices. In 2010, Svitanok received the Red Ribbon Award, which is the Oscar of health care. We received it for our work with children. The award was given to us at the opening of the conference when Bill Clinton delivered his speech and the singer Annie Lennox presented her foundation. It was a great success both for our organization and for Ukraine.

Expectations from the conference

At the conference, people will be asking me questions about the situation in the east of Ukraine. We have a lot to be proud of: in two years, we restored the ruined laboratories, AIDS centre and services. For the first time ever, a regional HIV/AIDS and tuberculosis programme was adopted and funded. Now we also have a roadmap for the transition period, when donors will withdraw from the country and all services will be funded by the government.

As a social worker and an internally displaced person, I am interested in the topic of gender in terms of what impact the situation of women has on the epidemic of HIV/AIDS.

A Chance to Find a Way Out

Methadone administration at the OST site in Oskemen

Author: Marina Maximova, Kazakhstan

Since 20 December last year, no new patients have been enrolled in the opioid substitution treatment (OST) programme in Kazakhstan. This decision based on the governmental inspection results led to concerns among civil society activists and medical professionals and to panic among people who use drugs (PUD).

I just want to live!

Her story is a cry for help. Aygul (the name was changed) from Almaty spent half of her 34 years on drugs. There was a time when she was dreaming to become a fashion designer, conquer Paris, meet her love, have children… Then, when she was 17, she tried heroin in a group of other adolescents and could not quit it. Back then she was sure that she could change everything and start her life with a clean slate. It seemed that she had all her life ahead. However, ahead of her there was only a fight for life. Drug abuse, HIV, hepatitis C…

“Due to drugs, I failed to receive an education. I spent my days in jail instead of school. As for my long-awaited love, it was the love for drugs. My dreams were buried together with my unborn babies. My window to Europe was the grilled window in the compulsory therapy department of the drug treatment centre together with other women who were as miserable and weak-willed as I was,” tells Aygul with tears in her eyes.

The only support comes from the woman’s parents who are elderly and exhausted with the daughter’s disease. Aygul hopes to enroll in the opioid substitution treatment programme and receive methadone. Now this dream is falling apart. Aygul was getting prepared, gathering documents. She found a job and believed that she would be able to start a new life. After all, she wants to live so badly!

Insight but not for all

In Almaty – the biggest city in the country – methadone-based OST has been implemented since 2017. It started later than in other cities of Kazakhstan. There was a strong public lobby against it. In less than a year, 15 people were enrolled in the programme with strict eligibility criteria, through the plan was to enroll 50 patients. Considering the estimated number of PUD – over nine thousand – the coverage was extremely low. However, even in this situation PUD and their co-dependent people had a goal and a hope – try to get in the programme and, thus, survive.

As of the end of the last year, 359 people were enrolled in the OST programme in Kazakhstan, including 31 women and 62 people living with HIV. There are success stories: 44 people found jobs, five started families and two female patients became mothers.

“The next steps were anticipated and planned to strengthen OST – approve a programme at the legislative level, launch OST in places of confinement, conduct ongoing monitoring of the patients’ health state. It is proven that methadone therapy has a positive social and psychological effect as people who receive treatment reintegrate into the society. Then, all of a sudden – the programme will not be scaled up, new patients will not be enrolled,” complains Sergey Shetnikov, Substance Abuse Consultant from the Answer NGO based in Oskemen (Ust-Kamenogorsk).

The last chance

In Kazakhstan, the OST programme was started in 2008 with the support of the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria. Within the period of its implementation, the programme was expanded into 13 cities. OST was included into the 2006–2010 National AIDS Programme. Its further implementation was stipulated in the National Programme “Healthy Kazakhstan 2011–2015.” Methadone is registered in the country. Staff is trained. The therapy is provided by multidisciplinary teams consisting of drug treatment doctors, psychologists, social workers, and nurses. The programme was positively assessed by the international organizations – UNODC and ICAP. It seems that there are all the prerequisites for scaling up OST…

“Apart from the recruitment of new clients being suspended, there is one more alarming trend – exclusion of clients. Thus, in Timurtau in Karaganda region the number of clients halved in three months. There are also disturbing signals from other regions of the country. How should people who have been excluded live on? Go back to heroin and jail?” asks Oksana Ibragimova, Advocacy Officer of the Kazakhstan Union of People Living with HIV.

OST for all people who need it may be the last chance for them to go back to normal life, to the society and the family, find jobs and feel that they are normal people.

The Z hour is in a month

Assessments of the OST efficiency and performance in Kazakhstan have been conducted more than once. Now an interagency committee is working, which is to issue its opinion in a month, on the eve of the 22nd International AIDS Conference in Amsterdam (AIDS 2018). Maybe, this decision will influence the attitudes of the Kazakh delegation. So far, some optimism may be derived from the opinion of Nikolay Negay, General Director of the Republican Scientific and Practical Centre of Mental Health at the Ministry of Health of the Republic of Kazakhstan.

“The Ministry of Health of Kazakhstan supports OST. It is one of the key elements of the cluster of drug treatment provision to patients with the opioid dependence. The programme is continued. In future, we hope that it will be implemented in line with the evidence-based international best practices,” he says.

Are the Rights of Most-at-Risk Adolescents in Ukraine Violated

Traditionally, there is an understanding that human right defenders organize actions, protest by the parliament, or we think of them as of those having legal education and regularly going to courts. However, every person can be a human right defender. Each specialist who provides services to vulnerable groups is, in fact, a human rights defender.

Reasons for implementing the monitoring tool

Within the last years, Ukraine has achieved great successes in fighting HIV epidemics. However, there are still many gaps that require immediate attention. First of all, there is a gap in providing prevention and treatment services for most at risk adolescents and youth, especially those who used drugs.

Starting from 2012, International Charitable Foundation “AIDS Foundation East-West” (AFEWUkraine) has been supporting the establishment of the system of services for adolescents using drugs. This work is conducted within the framework of the Bridging the Gaps project. Social bureaus, rehabilitation center and daycare centers in four cities were opened and are functioning successfully. Only in 2017, these centers and bureaus provided 21,290 services to 1,215 adolescents.

Project experience demonstrates that the rights of underage drug users are often violated, and this fact remains unknown to anyone from their close environment. Lack of response leads to repeated cases of violations, thus creating barriers in getting timely assistance, and, as a result, increases the possibility of negative consequences of drug use and unsafe behaviours. Therefore, violation of rights of underage drug users, that remains unnoticed is among the factors that contribute to increased risks of HIV infection.

Despite frequent cases of violations reported by service providers, these cases are not officially registered and publicly unknown.

That is why in 2016 AFEW-Ukraine and its partners started developing a tool for monitoring human rights violations of adolescents using drugs. The tool can be also applied to any other category of MARA, and it can be used by any specialist who works with MARA and has basic knowledge about human rights.

The overall objective of its implementation was to collect the data about cases of violations so that services providers and stakeholders could understand the scope of the problem and, based on that, improve and adjust advocacy actions on the national and local levels. Besides, use of the tool could help to provide timely response to the violations of rights of each client, offering an algorithm of actions that can facilitate it. This instrument can be used by a wide range of organizations and specialists that work with vulnerable children, adolescents and youth.

“Our task was to demonstrate that a social worker or any other professional working with key populations can stand for the rights of their clients. That it, in fact, does not require special legal education nor being a part of job description. However, specialists often do not understand that the problems faced by their clients are in fact cases of human rights violations that need special attention,” comments Anastasiya Shebardina, senior project manager from AFEW-Ukraine.

Piloting the monitoring tool

The tool for monitoring the violations of human rights of MARA consists of the directions on the use of the tool, screening questionnaire for service providers to identify the cases of violation, a template for the legal claim and online form for registering the cases of human rights violations that are filled by social workers or other specialists. The forms are filled online on the website of AFEW-Ukraine.

In each project city, AFEW-Ukraine organized introductory trainings for over 100 specialists from partner NGOs and service providers from referral network. Also, an educational webinar was organized for a wider range of participants who wished to learn more about the monitoring tool. In the nearest future, a free online course on human rights monitoring for most-at-risk youth will be developed.

Results of monitoring tool piloting

In 2017, 792 interviews with adolescents and youth were conducted with the use of screening questionnaire in 4 pilot cities. Among them, 430 adolescents were 14-18 years old. A number of cases of human rights violations, registered in an online form was 92 (12%) of all surveyed.

The results of piloting the tool demonstrate that the format for monitoring and documenting cases of human rights violations helps service providers to better recognize them and provide timely response to violations. The analysis of the documented cases allows to identify typical situations for each separate region or city and make advocacy actions more effective.

Documentation and analysis of cases with the use of monitoring tool will be continued and be used for further advocacy.

Coalition of Communities of Kyrgyzstan: “We United to Strengthen the Voices”

The Coalition of Four Communities is developing a media campaign to eradicate hate and stigma speech

Author: Olga Ochneva, Kyrgyzstan

Community organizations are often not cooperative: each one deals with specific problems and has its own approaches to work. Nevertheless, the Coalition of Four Communities: people who use drugs (PUD), sex-workers (SW), people living with HIV (PLHIV), lesbians, gays, bisexuals and transgender people (LGBT) is developing and gaining strength in Kyrgyzstan. Consolidation began three years ago without any financial support. The goal is to make the participation of communities in solving the problems of their groups meaningful, to fight against HIV, to reduce stigma and discrimination. Below we discussed the experience of interaction, successes and plans with the representatives of the Coalition.

Four years ago, our interlocutors could not even dream of uniting all groups vulnerable to HIV.

“I said three years ago, that organisations for people who use drugs can only unite with a group of PLHIV, and probably with sex-workers organisation. The representatives of our group often have experience of imprisonment and would never join the LGBT community,” says Sergey Bessonov, leader of the IDU community organization Harm Reduction Network Association. “At the meeting earlier this year, 99% of my employees agreed to work with convicted men who have sex with men. This is the result of the gradual and systematic work on the consolidation of our groups, which we have been carrying out in recent years. People start looking at each other differently.”

The true spirit of unity

The groups began to unite in 2015, when women who use drugs (Asteria), sex-workers (Tais Plus) and the LGBT community (Labrys) took part in presenting an alternative report on the situation with all three groups at the 60th session of the CEDAW Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women in Geneva. According to the members of the Coalition, they sensed the real spirit of unity during the election of a representative from the community to the governmental Coordinating Council for Public Health.

“As community organizations, we have mobilized to promote our candidate as an alternative to a candidate from AIDS-service organizations, since we have different approaches to work. Spontaneously, within two hours we managed to organize 47% of the votes,” recalls the director of the organization for women who use drugs Irena Ermolaeva. “Then the community of PLHIV and men who used drugs joined us. Although our candidate did not win, we understood that we are stronger standing together than alone, understood the real power of consolidation and were inspired by it.”

Similar problems in groups

The first activity of the Coalition was the development and submission of two project applications. At this time, a large regional network announced grants for the development of consortiums of communities. According to the representatives of the Coalition, the focus of their applications was on maintaining tolerance among groups as the basis for the future work. The Coalition has not received support but did not stop a joint activity. In 2017, the Coalition together with the Office of the Ombudsman conducted monitoring: they monitored the rights of all four communities. Later the organizations united to conduct a media campaign to eradicate hate speech and a language of hatred.

“Initially, the campaign had to be focused on the LGBT community. At the joint meeting last summer we decided to include all our communities in the campaign,” says Nazik Abylgazieva, the LGBT representative of the Labrys organization. “We made a video with famous people of the country who spoke about our problems. Our message has been heard: during three days, the video was viewed by more than 150 thousand people.”

50 representatives of different communities took part in a joint training, recalls the psychologist of the PLHIV-organization Prosvet Margarita Sabirova, and the team-building process was seen. People overcame external and internal discrimination. It became clear that groups had similar problems.

Involvement on a short notice

Now the Coalition includes seven community organizations representing women, men and young people who use drugs, PLHIV, sex-workers and the LGBT community. The Coalition is considering two more candidates. The association is not officially registered and is currently developing its strategic plan.

“Memorandums, agreements and the formal creation of consortiums do not solve the problem. If we understand each other and trust our partners, there is no need to register it legally since we are ready to help each other on a short notice, ready to get involved, to support,” claims Sergey Bessonov. “Together we already submitted several applications for our Coalition. The first joint project is aimed at bringing our communities closer together. We develop the three-year strategy of our Coalition and determine how we will interact to promote common interests.”

The Coalition received Global Fund project this year. Due to cuts of funding, it was decided to leave only one network that would work for all the groups instead of four separate national networks of communities. In the framework of this activity, communities monitor and advocate to improve the quality and access to HIV programs as well as receive technical assistance to increase community capacity and solidarity.

Mikhail Golichenko: “HIV Epidemic in Russia is an Epidemic of Powerlessness”

Mikhail Golichenko is a lawyer and Senior Policy Analyst at the Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network

Author: Anastasia Petrova, Russia

We discussed the human rights issues in the context of HIV in Russia with Mikhail Golichenko. Mikhail Golichenko is a lawyer and Senior Policy Analyst at the Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network — organization, which has a special consultative status at the United Nations Economic and Social Council. Previously, Mikhail was a Legal Officer with the UNODC Country Office in Moscow. His work is focused on the promotion of human rights and addressing legal barriers to accessing health rights and effective HIV/AIDS prevention and care programs for prisoners and people who inject drugs. He holds a Candidate of Sciences degree (PhD equivalent) in Law.

– The International AIDS Candlelight Memorial Day was marked recently. What is this day about for you?

– It is a good occasion to reflect on the victims of HIV and at the same time think about our role in making sure that people who died of this disease did not die in vain.

In Tolyatti, in 2012, if I am not mistaken, on this day people traditionally went to a park, they handed out condoms, HIV awareness-raising materials, lit candles. It was all happening near the monument to the glorious heroes of the Great Patriotic War. Tolyatti is a small city and there are not many locations to hold public campaigns. It happened that during the campaign the bowl with condoms was put near the eternal fire and this fact was misinterpreted by mass media. As a result, the campaign organizers were fined for holding a mass event in close vicinity to the monument to the Great Patriotic War heroes. That is a local law in Tolyatti.

It shows that we are on different sides of the processes: the society is aware of the problem and the state doing nothing to start considering this problem from the right perspective.

Could you please tell us about the human rights situation in Russia and its implications for the HIV epidemic?

The key factor in the development of HIV epidemic in Russia is human rights violations, which make certain populations more vulnerable to HIV. People who use drugs, sex workers, men who have sex with men (MSM), transgender persons and migrants do not have access to adequate prevention, care and support for HIV and other socially significant diseases.

Rights are the social clothes of a modern person. They are represented by the laws imposing obligations on the state. The set of human rights keeps people warm and protects them from any aggressive impacts of the social environment. Some populations, such as people who use drugs, had part of their clothes removed. So, in fact, these people have to stay naked when it is minus forty degrees Celsius outside. Of course, they get sick. We should not cherish any illusions: even if we have sterile needles and syringes on every street corner tomorrow, it will surely improve the situation, but not much. We will still have repressions, persecution of people who use drugs, which prevent people from seeking health services.

There is a similar situation with sex workers. They know that they should use condoms. However, they know that if they get beaten up by a client who insists on having sex without a condom, nobody will protect them. Police will, first of all, blame the sex worker for being involved in sex work. Sometimes it is easier not to use condoms hoping not to get infected than being beaten up knowing that it makes no sense to seek protection in the police.

As for MSM, it is the same. Now the website PARNI-PLUS, which published information on HIV prevention among men who have sex with men, has been closed. There are almost no similar sources of information in Russia. Where will people who live with their sexual identities take this information? Their vulnerability and stigma will grow. There is a direct linkage. HIV epidemic in Russia is an epidemic of powerlessness.

– Could you tell about your speech in the Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities? After it, a recommendation was made to revise the approach to the drug policy in Russia…

– There have already been many such recommendations. The Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, then the Human Rights Committee, the Committee on Women’s Rights, the Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, now there will be the Committee Against Torture. The committees realize that the drug policy in Russia is one of the drivers of systematic violations and issue those recommendations.

In my opinion, the main recommendation was given in October 2017, when the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights recommended Russia to decriminalize drug possession with no intent to distribute. The same goes for scaling up harm reduction services, legalizing substitution treatment, distributing truthful information on drugs, preventing overdoses, implementing substitution treatment for pregnant women, stopping tortures of drug users in police, in particular discontinuing the practice of using withdrawal syndrome to get evidence from detainees. Russia does not really follow all those recommendations, but the constant pressure will gradually give its results.

Our main tool is the attempt to involve government authorities in a dialogue so that people feel a certain need to introduce some changes. There is a set of clear recommendations, which are to be followed. It will certainly work. Where human rights are violated, there is no sustainability, there is a space for internal conflict, and there is no development.

What measures, in your opinion, does Russia need to take to stop the HIV epidemic?

We just need to remember that we are people. No laws are needed. There is a Constitution and it is enough. Safe coexistence is a value without which we cannot live. It is possible only with love, mutual understanding and help.

The Latest Global Prison Trends Publication Launched

Source: www.russellwebster.com

Last week, on 15 May 2018, Penal Reform International launched its annual flagship publication, Global Prison Trends 2018, at the UN Commission on Crime Prevention and Criminal Justice.

This is the fourth edition in their annual Global Prison Trends series and explores:

  • Trends in the use of imprisonment, including the use of pre-trial detention as an automatic response to suspects; the ongoing challenge of prison overcrowding; and the steady growth in the number of life-sentenced prisoners around the world.
  • Prison populations, such as the specific needs of women, children and LGBTI prisoners.
  • Developments and challenges in prison management, including record levels of prisoner violence in a number of prison systems; healthcare challenges and shortages of qualified healthcare staff; and the need to address violent extremism and prevent radicalisation in the prison system.
  • The role of technology in criminal justice and prison systems, such as the use of ‘telemedicine’ to provide mental healthcare and treatment, and the rise in access to online education and training.
  • The expansion of prison alternatives, including community service orders and electronic monitoring, and a growing trend in the use of restorative justice.

A Special Focus section looks at the rehabilitation and reintegration of offenders in the era of sustainable development.

Here you can find ten key facts that are of particular interest about the report.

Source: www.russellwebster.com

The needs of women living with HIV/AIDS in the Kyrgyz Republic

Community-based participatory research report “The needs of women living with HIV/AIDS in the Kyrgyz Republic”

Women and girls with HIV infection are culturally, socially, biologically and economically more vulnerable than men. The lack of reliable statistics, misconceptions about HIV transmission routes, stigma and discrimination on the part of society lead to the fact that HIV-positive women face many problems.

For several years in the Kyrgyz Republic, there has been a trend towards increased sexual transmission of HIV. The most vulnerable groups, along with injecting drug users (IDU), are women. HIV infection affects a whole range of problems – psychological, social and spiritual. Women, living in the conditions of “traditional culture”, are in a more difficult situation; gender inequality, which exists in the initial ethno-cultural environment, strengthens their social and economic problems. Women in particular, whose HIV status creates obstacles for the realization of basic needs, are particularly vulnerable in this regard, and therefore it has a negative impact on their quality of life. At present, services for HIV positive people (HPP) in the Kyrgyz Republic are universal, not taking into account the gender, which often limits access to legal, social, psychological and medical support for women living with HIV (WLH).

Despite the urgency of the problem, in the Kyrgyz Republic there was no systematic study conducted to reveal the needs of WLH, identifying factors that affect the quality of their lives and the barriers to obtaining services.

Read the research here.

The AFEW Culture Initiative Presents EECA Food and Art Night in Amsterdam

The first edition of PLOV ARTxFOODxCINEMA is coming to Amsterdam on 29 of May. 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.

During the event, visitors will taste food from Eastern Europe and Central Asia (EECA): traditional Russian okroshka beetroot and kefir soup and traditional Asian plov (pilaf) dish. After dinner the documentary “Debut” by Anastasiya Miroshnichenko (Belarus, 2017) will be shown. The movie is about women who are detained in a Belarus prison for first-time offenders.

“The PLOV evenings are great for those interested in a new cultural food experience, who would like to learn more about Eastern Europe and Central Asia, and public health issues of the region through the eyes of the artists,” says AFEW International Project Officer Judith Kreukels.

During the whole duration of the PLOV ARTxFOODxCINEMA event, there will be the possibility to see the artworks of artists-in-residence who come from the EECA region and stay in Amsterdam now.

Tickets to the event cost €20,00 for dinner and documentary, €15,00 for dinner only, and €9,50 for documentary only. Tickets to PLOV ARTxFOODxCINEMA can be reserved Studio /K by the telephone number 020 692 0422. Tickets can be purchased at the Studio /K on the evening itself.


16:00 — 22:00 – Open atelier and ongoing artistic showcase.
18:00 — 20:00 – Two-course dinner.
20:00 — 21:30 – Documentary screening, followed by Q&A.


Four visual artists-in-residence will showcase their ongoing artistic projects:
— Hanna Zubkova (Minsk/Paris)
— Hassan Kurbanbaev (Tashkent)
— Ilya Fedotov-Fedorov (Moscow)
— Lado Darakhvelidze (Kutaisi/Arnhem)


Two courses menu:
— Okroshka beetroot and kefir soup.
— Plov (pilaf) dish.
There is an option of a vegetarian menu.


The AFEW Culture Initiative was established in 2017 as a cultural and artistic ramification of AFEW International. The AFEW Culture Initiative offers an innovative alternative to intertwine the worlds of public health, culture and visual arts as a means to stimulate a much-needed dialogue on challenges such as HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis or viral hepatitis, as well as their impact on the lives of sex workers, substance users, imprisoned persons or LGBQTI, among others.

Martine de Schutter Scholarship Fund Launched

AFEW International sets up Martine de Schutter Scholarship Fund that allows participants from Eastern Europe and Central Asia (EECA) to attend the 22nd International AIDS Conference (AIDS 2018). Martine’s commitment to the international fight against AIDS and her unwavering support to the Eastern European region has set an example for us to follow. That is why AFEW International established the Scholarship Fund named after Martine de Schutter – our friend and fellow activist.

As of today, Martine de Schutter Fund raised 103.000 EUR to cover the additional scholarships of the EECA applicants to come to Amsterdam for AIDS 2018. A part of the Martine de Schutter Fund has been distributed to the applicants from EECA through the established Scholarship Committee of the International AIDS Society (IAS) of which 45 are regular scholarships and 20 – for speakers who will be invited from the EECA region. AFEW thanks Gilead, Janssen Cilag, Deutsche AIDS-Stiftung and Aidsfonds for their contribution to this Fund.

Martine de Schutter was a strong advocate for human rights. For about 10 years she managed the European network AIDS Action Europe, which connects more than 400 AIDS organizations throughout Europe and Central Asia. Martine worked with dedication and passion to keep the AIDS problem on the agenda at the European Union and to connect all organisations working on the same issues in Eastern Europe. In 2014, Martine became the Program Leader for Bridging the Gaps: Health and Rights for Key Populations program. She travelled a lot and her last trip was to AIDS 2014 Conference in Melbourne on the MH17 plane that was shot down and crashed.