Help Here and Now

“If you can help someone Here and Now, you should do it without postponing it or thinking what other people can do,” says Ekatherina Rusakova, Director of Sverdlovsk Regional Charitable Organization “Malaxit” supporting people in difficult life situations. “If every one of us helps at least one person, maybe it will drive changes in the society.”

To support these words, Malaxit implements the project “Social and legal support of people who use drugs in Yekaterinburg” with financing and support of the Emergency Support Fund for Key Populations in Eastern Europe and Central Asia (EECA).

Ekaterina how does your organization help people who use drugs in Yekaterinburg?

Ekatherina Rusakova, Director of Sverdlovsk Regional Charitable Organization “Malachite”

Mainly we provide social and legal support to clients to eliminate regulatory and discriminatory barriers, help them to get fair court decisions and access to free rehabilitation. Besides, we provide our clients with referrals to healthcare and social support institutions of the city. Our social worker makes outreach visits to families with small children. He provides consultations on HIV and treatment, helps clients to make appointments with specialists, assists them in re-issuing documents and receiving temporary registration in the city as clients are not able to receive medical or social services without registration.

Why did you decide to apply to the Emergency Support Fund for Key Populations in EECA?

We applied to the Emergency Support Fund because the situation of PUD in our city is difficult. Many people still do not recognize that substance use is a disease. However, this condition needs comprehensive treatment, including medical assistance, psychological and social support. Moreover, efforts should be aimed not only at the person using substances, but also at such person’s family as substance abuse is a systematic, family disease.

Of course, current situation contributes to the growth of HIV and other socially significant diseases (tuberculosis), while people who use drugs remain outsiders and the society prefers not to notice them. However, it is not possible to solve this problem pretending that it does not exist, after all sooner or later it will manifest itself and, most likely, in a very negative way. That is why, in our opinion, enough attention should be paid to secondary prevention and working with the “risk groups”.

What case from your practice do you remember best of all?

Andrey, a representative of the Rehabilitation Center and a social worker of the project, after a lawsuit in Revda, Sverdlovsk Region

That’s a story of one of our clients. Andrey came to our project when he learned about it from his friends. Back then, there was an investigation against him based on part 2 of article 228 of the Russian Criminal Code. Our staff members signed a social support agreement with him, drafted procedural requests and collected all the necessary documents. Social worker of the project acted as a community advocate in court. A person from the rehab also took part in the court hearings. As a result of our joint efforts, Andrey got a suspended sentence with a course of rehabilitation.

What does the society think about your work?

It depends: some people support us, some don’t and it’s fine! All people cannot think the same and have the same “view of the world”. We are all different, with various views, values, attitudes, and that’s the beauty of human beings – in their differences…

Have you ever faced any challenges working with the key populations?

Speaking about the members of key populations, our target groups, they are all positive about our activities, they trust our staff members and our experience. We mostly see challenges related to new psychoactive substances, which our clients still use. That is why they can have unpredicted behaviours, treatment interruptions, etc.

How does engagement of the key populations in your activities help you in your work?

I think that when implementing such projects it is very important to engage members of the key populations. Without such engagement, it is not possible to reach PUD, who are a very closed target group, especially considering that in this group there is a very low level of trust to people.

Your example of a perfect society.

I don’t think I could give you an example of a perfect society. I tend to be realistic when looking at things, not losing myself to illusions. I do not like it when people say that somewhere there is a perfect country and a perfect society, where everything is fine, which we should strive to achieve. There are some pitfalls everywhere. It is important to realize that there are good things everywhere and we need to learn to notice and appreciate them. I am sure that we have to always start with ourselves and you can of course feel offended and be angry at our country and our authorities, but it does not bring any results. Speaking about a specific country with the approach to working with key populations that I like, for me it’s Portugal.

 

What does good collaboration between municipalities and NGOs mean?

AFEW International (The Netherlands) was a technical partner in the Fast-Track HIV/TB Cities Project, which was implemented between 2017-2019. The main goal of the project was to develop efficient and sustainable city models of HIV/TB responses that would allow to reduce AIDS and TB mortalities in five project cities; Almaty (Kazakhstan), Balti (Moldova), Odesa (Ukraine), Sofia (Bulgaria), and Tbilisi (Georgia).

AFEW International with expertise on increasing access to health services for HIV, TB and viral hepatitis for key populations, is well-connected to Dutch health care providers. Within the Fast-Track HIV/TB Cities Project, videos were made to feature professionals working for municipalities, consultancies and NGOs, law enforcement agencies in the Netherlands and on an international level. What good collaboration between municipalities and NGOs means, why service-delivery for sex workers, People Who Use Drugs and LGBTQI is funded by the dutch municipality, and how this is organized? Answers on these questions are in this video.

 

 

 

Study tours help the public and non-public sectors to hear and see each other

For many years, NGOs have been engaged in study tours with visits to various organizations and institutions in other countries. While experience shows that not all study tours are equally useful – sometimes practices that work well abroad are incompatible with local realities – study tours have overall proven to provide participants with new knowledge and valuable practices that can be applied.

AFEW-Ukraine, partner in the “Bridging the Gaps: Health and Rights for Key Populations” programme, has noticed that at the local level partners benefit from sharing knowledge and experiences. Whereas each organization has its own reality and experience, NGOs all work in similar conditions. Since 2016, AFEW-Ukraine is regularly involved in the organisation of study tours for representatives of public organizations and government agencies, and colleagues working in other regions of Ukraine.

For Oleksandr Mohylka, Project Coordinator at the Compass Social House (KCF “Blago”, Kharkiv) and Nataliia Zlatopolska, Project Coordinator at the Altair Youth Friendly Center (PRCF “Public Health”, Poltava) study tours in Ukraine have proven to be an inspiration for bringing about change in their organisations and for their work with adolescents using drugs.

Where?

Oleksandr: As part of the project “Bridging the Gaps” this year, two social workers and me went to the CF “New Family” in Chernivtsi and their Psychosocial support center “Dialogue”. We wanted to know about their rehab program for teens. This was important for us because we wanted to provide rehabilitation services for adolescents who use drugs.

Nataliia: We had two trips to Kropyvnytskyi and Kharkiv. In Kropyvnytskyi we visited colleagues from the Social bureau “Lily” (CF “Return to Life”) and their partners in the city. In addition to Altair employees, we included representatives of the center for vocational training education, the department of juvenile prevention and the city center for family, children and youth.

The choice of partners for the trip was not accidental. For example, the practice has shown that our clients are mainly students of vocational schools, and through direct interaction with management, it is easier to connect with this group, to make our work process systematic to reach more people and achieve positive dynamics. Juvenile prevention redirects clients to us, and we engage them in training project leaders.

In Kharkiv, we had the opportunity to get acquainted with the experience of their Compass Center. First of all, we were interested in what tools the organization uses to work with our target audience, and how their partners’ network works.

Goal

Oleksandr: We had a very tight trip. It was interesting how the rehabilitation was organized – statutes on rehabilitation, the program, orders of local authorities etc. This is what we can apply now in our everyday work. It was interesting to learn how it all began to work, why there was a need for certain documents, what mechanisms these documents regulate, what is the role of the City Coordination Mechanism. We were also interested in the interaction of the “New Family” with the Coordination Council since this is a positive experience of interaction.

Nataliia: We had a meeting with the deputy mayor of Kropyvnytskyi for humanitarian issues, a dialogue showed that the public sector in Kropyvnytskyi understands what benefits it has from working with NGOs. Project specialists proved the importance of interacting with them with the help of numbers, statistics, cases, and stories. And we took this experience forward.

We also saw how the ideas of the project clients are implemented. We saw that they are really possible to fulfil. And these are not just dreams – it is actually possible to realize the ideas of adolescents. For example, we liked the idea of ​​sketching the addresses of Telegram drug distribution channels, not on their own, but using the resources of the city.

What was learned?

Oleksandr: It was after the trip to Chernivtsi that we made a firm decision that we would do a rehabilitation program. And we realized that we should do our own program, not the same as in Chernivtsi. The drug scene and, accordingly, the behaviour of adolescents and the consequences of using drugs change. Thanks to the trip to Chernivtsi, we now better understand how to take into account the unique experience of our colleagues and to make our rehabilitation program maximally meet modern challenges. We have already presented our idea to the Coordinating Council of Kharkiv. In the new City drug program, the development and support of a rehabilitation center for youth are now registered on the basis of our Social home! We were inspired by their experience and success; we saw that this is all real in our country. Moreover, now, apart from the “Dialogue”, no one is doing rehabilitation separately for teenagers in Ukraine. We always say that in Ukraine we have the experience of a successful rehabilitation center for adolescents and that we learn from them and are ready to contribute.

Nataliia: We “brought” new work tools home – for example, a step-by-step mechanism for referral clients from our city partners (educational and law enforcement agencies, social services, etc.) to us. In Kropyvnytskyi, if one of the key partners discovers a teenager who is probably using drugs, he or she will immediately be redirected to the social bureau “Lily”. And we studied communication mechanisms, registration log and so on. We also liked the practice of the leaders’ school. In addition, we spied on the work in the organizations themselves, how employees interact and were inspired by their atmosphere.

Results

Oleksandr: Study tours with partners to colleagues from Ukraine are a very high-quality mechanism for obtaining of well-deserved trust from government bodies and our main partners – the police, social services, educational and medical institutions. Such joint actions help them understand that we are doing real things, we are doing things that government agencies are not doing because of limited resources, instructions or something else. But the main thing is that we complement their work very well. We let them know that we are ready to help and train. We noticed that upon returning, even the level of relations changed, as well as the number of redirects to the Center. At the same time, during such study tours, we ourselves see how government bodies work and what kind of help they need.

Nataliia: Study tours help the public and non-public sectors to hear and see each other. Employees of various services in different cities may have different views, but this does not prevent them from communicating and sharing experiences and thoughts. They can understand what powerful resources we have, and that we really bridge the gaps in their work, too. Previously, for example, various myths were circulating about NGOs in our city that interfere with the organization’s work. After this visit, all questions of officials were removed, and the level of mutual trust continues to grow.

With the organisation of study tours, AFEW-Ukraine thus fosters in-country processes and partnerships to reinforce results in line with Bridging the Gaps Theory of Change. The organisation contributes to deliver and advocate continuously for strengthening services and upholding human rights for adolescents who use drugs in Ukraine.

 

 

Bishkek joins Zero TB Cities International Initiative

Today, December 6, Bishkek joined Zero TB Cities international initiative aiming to reduce tuberculosis disease rate in cities, an important event happened during City Health Leadership Forum in Kyiv. Vice Mayor for social issues of the city of Bishkek Tatyana Anatolievna Kuznetsova and Executive Director of Stop TB Partnership Dr. Lucica Ditiu signed this long-waited for declaration.

Vice Mayor for social issues of the city of Bishkek Tatyana Anatolievna Kuznetsova:

Early HIV detection is one of the important tasks in order to maintain and strengthen people’s health, achieving it to a large extent involves confronting stigma and discrimination.

Firstly, I would like to point out that Mayor’s Office of Bishkek acknowledges that stigma and discrimination create breeding ground for the epidemic spread. It is the social stigma and self-stigma that build barriers to HIV-testing as well as to its treatment and care.

In the beginning of this year the Mayor’s Office started active collaboration with the civil community and AFEW-Kyrgyzstan. Signing Paris Declaration and joining the initiative to facilitate activities in big cities have become the first steps of this collaboration. We commenced to design the first city program for HIV prevention that will be running for 2 years. Even though these questions largely fall into the domain of the Ministry of Health, it was important to us to make our contribution to people’s health. The document is now at Bishkek City Kenesh awaiting approval. After the paper is approved we hope to contribute about 10 million som from the municipal budget to HIV program. Expanding HIV-testing coverage is one the program priorities. According to expert estimations, about 35% of Bishkek citizen living with HIV are still unaware about their status. When we were discussing how to achieve this goal, we thought to start with ourselves. This is why the Office Administratives, including myself, and Heads of the structural departments publicly went to have their HIV-tests made during a large event as part of the World AIDS Day. This event was widely covered in social and mass media. When the authorities send such precise signals like this, citizen pay attention and stigma weakens.

Our next step together with AFEW-Kyrgyzstan is to start a large-scale training course for the employees of the local territorial departments about HIV, stigma being a keynote of the whole training course.

Next year we plan to start a working group at the City’s Healthcare Department. This group will bring together vulnerable communities and the Mayor’s Office in order to mutually discuss and plan activities within HIV prevention campaign. World Aids Day 2019 slogan is Communities Make The Difference. It is the close collaboration with the civil society and communities that will help us to eliminate stigma and discrimination in Bishkek”

Dina Masalimova, AFEW-Kyrgyzstan Programs Manager: “We would like to express our gratitude to the Mayor’s Office of the city of Bishkek for cooperation and openness to the new initiatives in healthcare. Our collaboration started in the beginning of 2019 under the framework of a PITCH project “Key populations and HIV and TB prevention priorities”. A number of meetings and panel sessions were held since then where the community and city’s healthcare representatives reported to the city authorities about difficulties and problems they face. In response, the Mayor’s Office committed to facilitate UNAIDS ambitious 90-90-90 goals by joining Paris Declaration. As the first step to implement its realization the Mayor’s Office developed a municipal program for HIV prevention together with AFEW experts. We are very glad that today the City Administration expressed their desire to step in the TB problem. It is particularly important since our research shows a large spectrum of medical and social difficulties TB patients are facing in the city. We would like to believe that signing of the ZERO TB Cities Declaration and active involvement of the Mayor’s Office of Bishkek would produce positive affect in the nearest future“.

About Zero TB Cities initiative

The purpose of the initiative is to create ‘islands of elimination’ that will contribute to lowering rates of TB and further support in implementing effective strategies on the national level.

The Initiative appeals to the local authorities to support and directly and actively participate in fighting TB in cities in close collaboration with the civil sector and other interested partners in order to achieve significant reduction of TB death rate and prevalence, develop comprehensive programs at those sites in local context, mobilize complimentary financial, technical and clinical resources, exchange the resources and experts between participating cities, as well as disseminate knowledge and generate global political will.

The Kyrgyz Republic is one of the countries that demonstrates the highest rate of TB prevalence in the European region. Like any other megapolis, Bishkek has higher concentration of key population groups with high risk of HIV and TB infection. By the end of 2018, estimated rates were as follow: living with TB – 76.9, deaths – 5.1 in 100,000 people. To ensure wellbeing of the population it is very important to grant access to high quality medical and social services to these population groups as well as focus at upholding human rights.

 

The EECA City Health Leadership Forum

On the 6 December 2019, the EECA City Health Leadership Forum will be organized in Kyiv, Ukraine, showcasing the results of the Fast Track HIV/TB Cities Project (2017-2019)

The Forum will focus on discussing the regional context, sharing successful HIV and Tuberculosis city response models and facilitating movement towards ending these diseases in Eastern European and Central Asian (EECA) cities. It will include a Mayors’ high-level panel discussion, presentations of successful city responses and innovation to fast-track cities to 90-90-90, which will feature the inclusion of key populations in the cities’ responses. The Forum will gather over 150 delegates from 20 countries of the EECA region, including 11 city Mayors.

The Fast-Track HIV/TB Cities Project

Launched on World AIDS Day 2014, the Fast-Track Cities initiative has grown to include more than 300 cities and municipalities that are committed to attain the UNAIDS 90-90-90 targets: 90% of all people living with HIV will know their HIV status; 90% of all people with diagnosed HIV infection will receive sustained antiretroviral therapy (ART); and 90% of all HIV-diagnosed people receiving sustained ART will achieve viral suppression.

Alliance for Public Health (Ukraine) together with AFEW International (The Netherlands), licit (Switzerland) and Stop TB Partnership under technical guidance of UNAIDS EECA office with funding of The Global Fund initiated the regional Fast-Track HIV/TB Cities Project. The project was implemented between 2017-2019 and developed efficient and sustainable city models of HIV/TB responses that would allow to reduce AIDS and TB mortalities in five project cities; Almaty (Kazakhstan), Balti (Moldova), Odesa (Ukraine), Sofia (Bulgary), and Tbilisi (Georgia).

Amsterdam was one of the first to sign the Paris Declaration in 2014 and has introduced a comprehensive health policy for key populations. AFEW International with expertise on increasing access to health services for HIV, TB and viral hepatitis for key populations, is well-connected to the Municipal Public Health Service and police in the Netherlands. This expertise was shared in two training courses and a study tour.

International best practice suggests that collaborative city level models have been most effective in reducing HIV and TB burdens. The first training series, ‘Collaboration between municipalities and civil society – models and realities’, were designed as an exchange and sharing of experience and best practices in successful models of municipality and NGO partnerships. Five integrated work meetings and counselling sessions with selected project city stakeholders from municipality, health and social sector, NGOs and key populations were conducted by licit and AFEW International and improved key populations’ service access through better collaboration between relevant city stakeholders – most importantly, between municipalities and NGOs.

The second training series on innovative municipality funding approaches planned exchanged and adapted such approaches and income generating activities. The training replicated successful practices in the project cities through learning from experiences in Amsterdam. During this training the best international practices of public-private partnerships at city level and private funding for key population programmes offered inspiration for the participants of the training.

During the study tour different partners of AFEW International shared models, experiences and activities that demonstrated successes and challenges in increasing access to health for key populations. Project partners from Almaty, Kyiv and Tbilisi were provided the opportunity to connect to civil servants and different health actors within the Netherlands and discuss initiatives to reach out to key populations to increase their quality of life. Furthermore, representatives of municipality, police and NGOs working with key populations elaborated on different forms of collaboration, to prove that the only way to eliminate HIV and TB is if municipality, police and NGOs work together.

 

 

RADIAN grants are now open for grant seekers

Since the 21 of November RADIAN grants for both the ‘Model Cities’ (Almaty only) and ‘Unmet Need’ funds are open for grant seekers to submit concept notes.

The RADIAN ‘Unmet Need’ fund will support local initiatives across the EECA region and beyond the select ‘Model Cities’. Initiatives selected will focus on prevention and care, education, community empowerment, and novel partnerships. The programme will be implemented locally, working with key stakeholders and partners.

The Fund is welcoming concept notes for evidence-informed solutions implementing in Albania, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Croatia, Estonia, Georgia, Kosovo, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Latvia, Lithuania, Montenegro, Republic of Moldova, Russian Federation, North Macedonia, Romania, Serbia, Slovenia, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Ukraine, or Uzbekistan. The Fund welcomes concept notes for multi-country projects.

You can join for a webinar on applying for a RADIAN Unmet Need Fund grant. This webinar will guide applicants through the RADIAN Unmet Need Fund Opportunity Announcement and application process, and offer an opportunity for participants to ask questions on the Opportunity Announcement and application process.

The webinar will be held on December 3rd 2019 11:00-12:30 (GMT). Please register for the webinar here.

Applications to implement Model Cities in Almaty are now open as well. The programme will support innovative approaches, including new models of care and expanded prevention and healthcare programmes, led by groups who are on-the-ground and part of the community.

The first RADIAN ‘Model City’ will be Almaty, Kazakhstan’s largest city. The RADIAN Model Cities Fund is looking to support programmes centred around existing health system infrastructure that deliver measurable impact in the response to HIV in Almaty. Organisations who share Radian’s vision of significantly improving the quality of care for PLHIV, addressing new HIV infections and AIDS deaths in Almaty can apply for grant funding. A detailed Opportunity Announcement, including eligibility and selection criteria can be downloaded below. Additional ‘Model Cities’ will be announced in 2020.

HOW TO APPLY

RADIAN grants for both the ‘Model Cities’ (Almaty only) and ‘Unmet Need’ funds are now open for grant seekers to submit concept notes. All concept notes must be in English.

Applicants whose Concept Notes are selected to move forward to the Application stage will be notified by the Foundation and will be requested to submit an Application with further details on their solution. A detailed Opportunity Announcement for each fund, including eligibility and selection criteria, can be downloaded below.

 

The 3rd regional autumn school in Bishkek

On October 29, AFEW partners came together in Bishkek, the capital of Kyrgyzstan, for 3 days to take part in the annual Autumn School, which is organized within the project “Bridging the Gaps: health and rights of key populations“.

The great energy of the participants and amazing nature gave a chance to everyone to enjoy the event and to discuss important issues on prevention and treatment of #HIV, harm reduction, migration, and financing in the region of Eastern Europe and Central Asia. Participants in the Autumn School included representatives of AFEW partners from Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Ukraine, Russia, and the Netherlands, sub-recipients of the project “Bridging the Gaps”, as well as other partners and experts including those from Great Britain and the USA.

Active space

The Autumn School quickly became an active space for discussion: about strategy, barriers, innovations, and partnership opportunities between the participating organizations. During the first day, participants shared updates on the “Bridging the Gaps” project and activities in their countries – Georgia, Kyrgyzstan, Ukraine, and Tajikistan. The afternoon session was devoted to a World Café, in which partners exchanged ideas and developed specific actions to overcome challenges that they often encounter in their work.

The second day was devoted to the topic “Stimulant use and chemsex”. Benjamin Collins, director of International HIV Partnership (IHP), which partners with medical and community activists across Europe and the Middle East for successful responses to HIV and viral hepatitis, joined the Autumn School in Bishkek to share his experience on chemsex . The topic of (problematic) chemsex was further elaborated in the presentations of Monty Moncrieff, Chief Executive of London Friend, a London charity working to promote the health and well-being of lesbian, gay, bisexual and trans (LGBT) people, and Daria Alexeeva, program director of AFEW International. Monty spoke about the London experience in harm reduction, while Daria presented materials of Nikolay Lyuchenkov, an infectious disease doctor and expert on sexual health issues from Russia, which were focused on trends and responses to chemsex in Russia and EECA region.

 

The third and final day of the conference was devoted to workshops on migration, rehabilitation and financial sustainability. Evgeniya Alekseeva, director of Public Health and Social Development Foundation “FOCUS-MEDIA”, presented analysis of NGOs funding situation in EECA region; Elena Zhirnova, manager of the project “Our Choice: Empowering Vulnerable Women in Kyrgyzstan” (AFEW-Kyrgyzstan) told about challenges and opportunities of social entrepreneurship in the country; and Fatima Yakupbayeva, co-founder of law firm “PRECEDENT” and publisher of the book “From Grant to Business Project”, shared auditing resources for launching a business model and recommendations on how to implement business ideas.

 

The session on migration started with a presentation by Rukhshona Kurbonova, coordinator of the Migrant Health Programs at International Organization for Migration in Tajikistan. She talked about labor migration in Central Asia, while Zulaika Esentaeva (IOM Kyrgyzstan) shared their experience on service-delivery by IOM Kyrgyzstan for vulnerable migrants.

The session on rehabilitation was devoted to building information campaigns. During the session, Marina Govorukhina, specialist on strategic communications and branding, author of the books “Communications in Public Organizations”, “Strategic Communications in Public Organizations”, demonstrated specific techniques of developing informational marketing campaigns for rehabilitation centers to the participants from Georgia, Kyrgyzstan and Ukraine.

Moreover, the School included a 2-day training for AFEW communication managers, during which participants focused on learning about storytelling and SMM in the context of NGOs.

 

 

Natalya Shumskaya, director of AFEW-Kyrgyzstan

I especially noted the session on new psychoactive substances. This topic is relevant for our country, as sexual ways of HIV transmission keep growing in Kyrgyzstan, and new psychoactive substance use impacts sexual behavior. For us it is a wonderful opportunity to take on the experience of those countries that have already faced similar problems, and elaborate effective strategies for preventative measures in our country.

The third day was remarkable due to the acute topic of sustainability of civil society organizations. We all see the tendency of decreasing donor support in our countries. That means that civil society should aim to ensure financial sustainability independently, and one of the opportunities is the development of social entrepreneurship. During this meeting we shared the experience of creating our own social enterprise – a beauty salon. I would like to especially point out the session by Fatima Yakupbayeva from the “Precedent” company. She gave us specific business-ideas, which could be developed by an NGO in order to earn money independently and further direct it to realization of our statutory goals.

The importance of this event is in sharing and exchange of experience. When the financial support for our organizations is not that high, it is important to avoid duplication of activities, and, on the other hand, to consolidate our efforts in order to realize our main strategic goals. For instance, the past regional meetings allowed us to bring good practices of working with youth at risk from Ukraine to our country. We are very grateful that we didn’t have to be the pioneers in this, but rather adapt and use their experience. Also, I think that the experience of Kyrgyzstan will be useful to some of our colleagues, and they will be able to apply it in their countries.

Monty Moncrieff MBE, Chief Executive of London Friend

It’s important for people working in the region on the same issues to have the opportunity to come together and share their knowledge and experience. It helps build the data on important topics, and enables participants to share what they’re seeing locally, as well as share tips on how to address new and emerging trends. It also helps build relationships, which spark ideas for new partnerships. Even though the internet gives us great opportunities to connect and work together online it’s difficult to get that richness of connection without bringing people together in person, and doing so for a number of days provides lots of opportunities for conversations outside the formal sessions.

We can always learn from one another, and hopefully by inviting people who have been working on issues for some time in other countries we can bring the benefit of that experience. We can share leaning about what’s worked and what hasn’t for us, and hopefully that can benefit people who are only starting to see these issues emerge locally.

Evgeniya Alekseeva, PHD in medical sciences, Director of Public Health and Social Development Foundation “FOCUS-MEDIA”

Meetings such as the Autumn School are important, because they bring together people from different countries and cities, create space for discussing acute issues and situations in our field, allow to form alliances, agree about partnerships, as well as have informal conversations and take a break from the daily routine.

At the Autumn School in Bishkek, I especially noted a very interesting session on chemsex, sessions on business projects for NGOs, and on migration. I will certainly use this knowledge further while writing proposals, developing new projects and creating new ideas.

Zarina Siyakova, program coordinator of the Tajik Network of Women Living with HIV

This meeting provided me with a great opportunity to learn more about what is happening in other countries in regards to promoting prevention and treatment of HIV. I especially noted the session on chemsex, as I hadn’t had a chance to encounter this issue before. I was particularly interested in the presentation by Monty Moncrieff, as well as the presentation of Nikolay Luchenkov from Russia on chemsex in EECA.

Also, I received answers to many questions on migration that I’m interested in, and most importantly, exchanged contacts with almost all the participants. It is well known that nowadays there is a very large stream of migrants from Tajikistan to Russia, and many of them lack information about services for migrants and d existing organizations in Russia. Now our organization will be able to refer our clients to these organizations, and we won’t lose them out of sight.

If you are interested in specific presentations of the Autumn School, please send your request to autumnschool@AFEW.nl.

New UNAIDS Strategic Information Hub for Eastern Europe and Central Asia

UNAIDS Strategic Information Hub for Eastern Europe and Central Asia (UNAIDS SI Hub) has been launched on the Internet.

The purpose of this resource is to provide an online one-stop-shop for data, publications and strategic information about HIV (and related health issues) in EECA. It is publicly accessible to anyone online, but it aims to make information accessible and easy to find for specialists and policymakers working on HIV in governmental, non-governmental organizations and partners across EECA.

The address of the hub is http://eecahub.unaids.org/ and it’s managed by UNAIDS RST  in Moscow, with support from UNAIDS HQ. It currently features HIV data from the latest GAM reports, as well as published reports and presentations related to HIV in EECA. It’s possible to access the country-specific data and reports as well as reports and publications from the various menus. By selecting “data” and “factsheets”, you can generate and print Regional and Country factsheets as PDFs as well access as epidemiology slides with global and regional statistics.

The hub works in two official UN languages – English and Russian, but most of the publications will only be available in the language they are produced (and not translated into other languages by UNAIDS).

For contribution to the UNAIDS SI Hub please send your suggestions, data, publications and other materials to eecasihub@unaids.org.

HIV in prison is not a death sentence

Nowadays Kyrgyzstan is recognized as one of the most advanced countries in the world in regards to delivery of the harm reduction and HIV care and treatment programs in prisons (details here).

At the moment here, in the penitentiaries, there are 5 active programs: syringe exchange program, methadone maintenance treatment program, rehabilitation program “Atlantis”, Center for Rehabilitation and Social Adaptation “Clean zone” and “Start Plus” program.

Dina Masalimova, AFEW-Kyrgyzstan program manager, explained what kind of work is done in this field in the country, and which significant results have already been achieved.

Dina, could you please describe the programs for inmates? What do they look like?

A pilot program on needle and syringe exchange was introduced in Kyrgyzstan in 2002, in one of the prisons with a modest reach of 50 people. A year later the program was expanded to 3 prisons, and then several more. Today there are 14 syringe exchange stations (SES) in the penitentiary system. They work in all the prisons except for the facility for underage convicts. Also, syringe exchange services are provided in the 2 largest detention centers. An actual number of SES clients in 2018 amounted to over 1300 people. They received syringes either in person, or through a secondary exchange conducted by volunteers. Aside from the sterile injection equipment you can also find other protection items at the stations – alcohol wipes, condoms; and HIV blood tests are done here too. Those clients that would like to decrease or fully stop the injecting drug use are forwarded to the methadone maintenance treatment stations.

The methadone maintenance treatment program was started in the country’s prisons over 10 years ago – in 2008.  Today there are already 9 stations in the penitentiaries, and the number of clients is over 350. These programs are conducted by the State Penitentiary Service with the support of the Global Fund To Fight Aids, Tuberculosis And Malaria, as well as Center for Disease Control (CDC).

Aside from the harm reduction programs there is a program aimed at the full withdrawal from drug use in prisons. In a number of places the  “Atlantis” program based on the famous model “12 steps” is active. The program graduates can serve their remaining sentence time in the Center for Rehabilitation and Social Adaptation “Clean zone”. “Clean” means that it’s free from drugs. There is a full-scale program of rehabilitation and preparation for sober life outside of prison there.

Over the past 5 years we also were active in delivering services directly to inmates. For instance, our consultants have supported prisons’ health system by providing peer-to-peer consultations and HIV testing, as well as supported inmates before and after their release from prison. For a long time this program has been implemented with the support of USAID. Soon it will be continued thanks to the financial and technical support of ICAP (international program by Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health).

How are these programs created, and who delivers them?

As a rule, these programs are created based on the actual needs of the most vulnerable groups of prisoners – people living with HIV and/or using drugs. And these programs are also delivered by the representatives of these communities.

We approach the program in a flexible way and always try to improve it so that it remains relevant. For example, one of our recent additions to the program is working with the convicts that were rejected by the prison subculture. Due to the unspoken prison rules this group of prisoners has the lowest level of access to medical and social support and faces a high level of stigma and discrimination from the other convicts, and often also from the prison staff.

Could you share some results of these programs?

All the programs currently active in the country are aimed at reaching the ambitious goal 90-90-90.  Now almost all inmates in prison are being tested for HIV “at the entrance”, and a vast majority of people living with HIV are formally in treatment. Why “formally”? The viral load indicators show that quite a few of inmates don’t use it. In prisons there are a lot of myths about HIV and antiretroviral therapy, and during in-person conversations many patients admit that they simply throw medicines away. Because of that, the main goal of our project is to increase the number of convicts who live with HIV with undetectable virus load.
Over the years we achieved great results. For instance, in prison #31 the number of people who are adherent and have a suppressed virus load has grown from 15% to 68%, and in prison #16 – from 33% to 66% in the past three years. We are especially proud of two prisons – #2 and #47, where we’ve already reached the second and third “90”.

All these programs are mainly targeting male convicts. Are there any special programs for female inmates, for pregnant women?

In Kyrgyz prisons there are only 10 female inmates living with HIV. However, it is also important to consider their needs while planning measures in response to HIV-epidemic. We approach work in female prisons quite reverently and are trying to make sure our programs are gender-sensitive.  In one prison there was a women self-help group focusing on gender violence prevention. Also we partner with NGO “Asteria”, which runs a women’s center supported by AFEW-Kyrgyzstan and open for women released from prison. Many of the center’s clients are former inmates, and the help and support program includes temporary lodging, provision of food and hygiene packages, peer consulting on HIV, sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR) and opioid substitution treatment (OST), as well as provides access to gynecological services.

What is the prisoners’ attitude towards such programs?

Inmates perceive this program in a very positive way. Slowly but surely our team managed to win their trust and involve them into the dialogue about their health. It’s important to understand that health is far from the first priority for a person in prison. Unfortunately, current conditions of prisons make basic survival the main priority, and HIV is perceived as a far removed problem for many of them. Our peer consultants have their own experience of living with HIV in a prison, so they can show by their own example how one could solve upcoming problems.

Could you name the main current problem for prisoners with HIV in Kyrgyzstan?

One of the main problems is the lack of medical staff in the penitentiary system. In a number of large prisons in the country there are no doctors with higher medical degree. All the work on supporting prisoners’ health is put on the shoulders of a small team of paramedics. Of course, very often they have no time or knowledge needed to perform quality work on supporting inmates with HIV. We also try to help in such cases. For example, in prison #16 there was no doctor for a whole year, and our organization set up weekly visits of a doctor from the Republican AIDS center in order to support the patients.

It is often said that many prisoners don’t trust prison staff, including health workers…

Yes, it’s a separate and quite serious problem, and the consequence of it is the unwillingness of prison inmates to follow doctors’ recommendations. Our consultants serve as a certain “bridge”, which helps to build trust-based relationships between doctors and patients. For instance, with the patients’ agreement they take the results of viral load and cd-4 tests and thoroughly explain their meaning to the patients, e.g. the influence of the therapy on those indicators etc. We try to find individual approach to everyone. For many people the possibility to have a family and healthy children when they reach undetectable viral load becomes the best motivation for treatment.

It seems that peer-to-peer consulting is a really life-saving tool when it comes to fighting for the health of prisoners living with HIV, isn’t it?

Александр Certainly! We have so many stories that prove it. For instance, the story of Alexander. He learned about his positive HIV-status in 2013. His prison mates gave him a clear verdict that he would die soon. Needless to say, he was in great shock. He didn’t have any access to information, and doctors didn’t explain much. On the verge of desperation he started to use more drugs. He looked at the people with positive HIV-status around him, and they were dying one after another. He also waited for his turn.
In 2016 peer consultants from the Action against HIV project started to come to the prison. One of them – Evgeniy – really impressed him. He was living with HIV himself, but he didn’t look like he was dying at all, quite the contrary. During one conversation with a peer consultant Alexander got more information than in the previous 3 years of his life with positive HIV-status. At that moment he told himself: “Enough. I choose life”. He started treatment and quite soon reached undetectable viral load.