AFEW International, AFEW Kyrgyzstan and IOM Tajikistan lauched a project for Tajik migrants

Tajikistan is a country marked by a high level of labour migration due to a lack of work in the country. According to official figures, in 2019 more than 500.000 Tajiks left the country for working abroad. The majority works in Russia, where there is a high prevalence of HIV. The proportion of the Tajik migrants among new registered HIV cases in Tajikistan increased  from 10.1 percent in 2014 to 18.8 percent in 2018. Also, little is known about migration of key populations, such as people who use drugs and men who have sex with men (MSM), and their behavior in using health services while working abroad.

To enhance Tajik migrants’ access to HIV services, particularly key populations, IOM Tajikistan together with AFEW International and AFEW Kyrgyzstan launched the project “Improving migrants’ access to HIV services in Tajikistan” in 2019.

What are the goals of this project and how will it change migrants’ lives? Rukhshona Kurbonova, National Professional Officer, Sub-Regional Coordinator on Migration Health for Central Asian countries, talked to AFEW International.

Rukhshona, why it is important to work with migrants?

Migrant workers significantly contribute to the economy of the countries of origin and countries of destination, but are often left out when it comes to health programming. The majority of the Tajik migrants is involved in low skilled jobs, even if they have a good education. The prerequisite for good performance – even for low skilled work – is good health; therefore, both countries of origin and destination benefit from healthy migrants. However, migrants can be stressed by facing a new environment, culture, language, and they are often exposed to poor working and living conditions in the receiving country. This all can put their health at risk. This all circumstances put their health at risk and make migrants vulnerable.

Additionally, since the majority of Tajik migrants are young men from rural areas, where strong social control is part of the traditional patriarchal society, getting into a big metropolis with different norms and morals can impact their sexual behaviour. A difference in social control, little knowledge about prevention of sexually transmitted infections and HIV, alcohol consumption and drug use, and casual sex all play into migrants’ vulnerability to Sexual Transmitted Infections (STIs) and HIV. Therefore, it is important to address their health needs and raise awareness. Integrating migrants into national health programmes and strategies is part of the agenda of the Universal Health Coverage approach promoted by the WHO and other UN organizations including IOM.

The project “Improving migrants’ access to HIV services in Tajikistan” aims to enhance Tajik migrants’ access to HIV services, particularly among key populations. How do you plan to reach this goal and which tools will you use?

The project is composed of two parts: The first part is working in the field with returned migrants in Kulob to raise awareness on safe migration and promoting health seeking behaviour relating STIs and HIV through peer networks. The second part is a regional working meeting with the participation of officials and HIV service NGOs from the Russian Federation, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan to discuss the essential HIV related package of services for migrants from Central Asia, as recommended by the World Health Organisation.

For the fieldwork in Kulob, IOM will partner with the local NGO “Nakukor”, which has strong experience in working with different groups of migrants. Jointly, they will promote the peer-to-peer approach and hire outreach workers among representatives from the key populations. In addition, within this project supported by AFEW International, IOM will provide free access to HIV tests and survey key populations among migrants to map their sexual behavior and refer them to HIV testing when needed. A legal consultant and venereologists will conduct information sessions for migrants on safe migration and prevention of STIs and HIV. Thanks to the project, two new brochures on safe migration and prevention of STIs and HIV will be developed for migrants. To ensure the sustainability of the project, IOM implements all activities jointly with relevant governments stakeholders – the Tajik Ministry of Labour, Migration and Employment, the Republican Healthy Lifestyle Promotion Center and the Republican AIDS Control Center of the Tajik Ministry of Health and Social Protection.

How long does IOM Tajikistan work with migrants?

IOM Tajikistan has been working on migrants’ health since 2005 and implemented projects on the prevention of STIs, HIV and TB among outbound and inbound migrants. The activities of the Migration Health Unit at IOM Tajikistan are covering the four main pillars needed to ensure the health of migrants holistically: monitoring migrants’ health, advocacy for policy development, provision of migrant sensitive health care services and strengthening inter-country coordination, partnership and networking. IOM Tajikistan has been implementing innovative approaches to reach migrants through peer education, engagement of the diaspora, the creation of multidisciplinary teams in the districts, the publication of communication materials in different languages such as Tajik, Russian, Uzbek, Chinese, Dari, Turkish, and others and by ensuring a multisectoral approach and cross border cooperation. To improve knowledge and skills of the stakeholdres, NGOs and health workers on promoting migrants’ health, a number of educational materials, such as manuals, video clips, and documentaries, were developed and distributed. Additionally, IOM Tajikistan is experienced in providing technical support and promotes the inclusion of migrants’ health issues and concerns into health-related policy documents, such as those developed by the HIV and TB National programmes. Last but not least, we are currently contributing to the development of the National Health Strategy for 2021-2030 and the National Strategy on migration health. IOM Tajikikstan is a member of the Technical Working Group on developing new National AIDS Control Programme and National TB Control Programme for 2021-2025.

Which barriers you might face in Tajikistan and how you are going to overcome them?

Stigma and discrimination are the main barriers faced by migrants and the general population in Tajikistan in accessing HIV services. There is also a high stigma of people who are using drugs, and sexuality is also a taboo topic in society. With our peer-to-peer-approach, we want to reach out to key populations. Through the awareness-raising campaign, working with migration officials and health workers, we want to address and reduce stigma and discrimination of people living with HIV and of key populations. For a better understanding of migrants’ access to HIV services in Tajikistan, the project also has as an operational research component to explore the barriers face by migrants when coming back home.

What do you expect from the project?

The results of the project will improve our understanding of the migrants’ needs concerning HIV services. The project will also help in developing effective communication and health promotion strategies that improve the detection of HIV among the migrant population and refer them for adequate treatment.

Helena Arntz, Junior project officer of AFEW International

Public opinions about migrants, in particular key populations among migrants, are often full of prejudice and stereotyping, which leads to discrimination in the health care system. Migrant workers are in constant movement and often a long time from home, so they can have more difficulties in getting the health care they need. They receive little information about how to be safe abroad, which poses continuous threats to their health and that of their families.

AFEW International has experience with and knowledge on migration in Central Asia and Russia. AFEW International currently also manages two projects in Russian cities Rostov-on-Don and Yekaterinburg to improve healthcare for migrants living with HIV.

In this joint project with IOM Tajikistan we not only want to address the limited information available to key populations among migrants, but also gain better insight in the behavior of this specific group. As the consequences of unsafe migration are not limited to the home country, we will address the needs of migrants at a regional event in Dushanbe. We expect that this will increase cross-border cooperation between Central Asian countries and Russia to improve the needs of key populations among migrants.

 

So many women, so many fates

 

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

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

What does sex mean for men and women in Tajikistan?

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

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

Does it happen because of national traditions and religion?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Why do women tolerate violence?

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

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

Are women with HIV more vulnerable?  

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

Why are women with HIV afraid to visit doctors?

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

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

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

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

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

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

How difficult is it for women to accept their status?

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

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

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

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

You can find the research here

 

IT’S TIME

24 of March is a World TB Day 2020.World TB Day is a big moment to sound the alarm, raise attention, and tell world leaders to follow through on their promise to diagnose and treat 40 million people with TB by 2022, as agreed at the UN High-Level Meeting (UNHLM) on TB in September 2018.

We all need to work together now on important activities to make sure that World TB Day 2020 is the biggest and most effective.

What we together can do?

  • REACH OUT
    Reach out to your political leaders (Mayors, Parliamentarians, Ministers of Health, Heads of State) to request their leadership in the fight to END TB, remind them of the commitments and targets that have to be reached by the end of 2022, and request their engagement for World TB Day. This could include making a public statement, supporting an event, introducing a motion in parliament, or committing to achieve the UNHLM country targets.
  • GET SOCIAL 
    The hashtags for this year’s World TB Day are #ItsTimetoEndTB and #WorldTBDay. Start raising awareness through social media. Share your plans with us on Twitter or Facebook.
  • MAKE IT STARRY
    Reach out to celebrities, influencers, TV personalities, and other figures to ask them to join your efforts and raise awareness or wear a red arrow pin ahead of World TB Day. Stop TB partnership has a list of national celebrities, journalists and personalities that we can share with you case by case, so don’t hesitate to get in touch with us to get their contacts.
  • TEAM UP
    Team up with local TB partners to join forces in planning major World TB Day events, public mobilizations, and other activities. Stop TB partnership have a database of partners at country level – so do not hesitate to get in touch with us to be able to identify the partners with whom you want to work for these events.

Text – http://www.stoptb.org/

I Love Every Minute of My Life

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

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

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

How I learned about my status

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

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

Through suicidal attempts to the new life

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

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

I am happy!

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

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

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

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

 

 

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.

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.

 

Monitoring of HIV-related stigma and discrimination

The ways in which HIV-related stigma and discrimination are manifested and experienced are complex and varied. Many different measures from different perspectives are currently used to monitor HIV-related stigma and discrimination.

To better understand the status of HIV-related stigma and discrimination and progress towards their elimination, support advocacy for addressing HIV-related stigma and discrimination and highlight data gaps, UNAIDS is coordinating the development of summary measures of HIV-related stigma and discrimination. Please see the concept note for more background information.
Starting on 19 August 2019 for a period of three weeks, various elements of the draft measures will be discussed. A few key questions will guide the moderated discussion each week. Inputs and recommendations from each week will be shared at the start of the following week and used to inform the next element of the measures to be discussed.
To participate in the consultation please read more information here.

Through the 2016 Political Declaration on HIV and AIDS, the global community committed to eliminating HIV-related stigma and discrimination by 2020 “for the equal enjoyment of all human rights and equal participation in civil, political, social, economic and cultural life, without prejudice, stigma or discrimination of any kind” of people living with, at risk of and affected by HIV.
The proposal is to develop one summary measure of HIV-related stigma and discrimination and four accompanying summary measures of stigma and discrimination experienced by sex workers, gay men and other men who have sex with men, people who inject drugs and transgender people related to factors other than HIV. This will make it possible to capture the diverse forms of stigma and discrimination that may be experienced by key populations most affected by HIV that may not be directly due to HIV but that have important impact on the HIV response.

This virtual consultation aims to encourage broad participation, particularly of people living with and affected by HIV, gay men and other men who have sex with men, transgender people, young people, sex workers, people who use drugs and women, from all regions. Contributions through this consultation will be used to inform the development of the measure(s) and ensure they are people-centered, reflecting the lived experiences and realities of people, and meaningful to inform programmatic action.
A summary of inputs and recommendations from the consultation will be shared in September 2019. 

New collaboration of AFEW International

We are happy to announce that AFEW International represented by executive director Anke Van Dam became a consultant of an international project “Optimizing HIV prevention portfolios targeting people who inject drugs using dynamic economic modeling” awarded with NIH grant.

As one of the significant contributors AFEW International will act as a liaison to the key networks, organizations, and partners in the countries in the region of Eastern Europe and Central Asia. We will help the project team access data and the best level expertise for undertaking modeling in EECA. As well as we will provide consultations and feedback on the modeling process in the EECA region.

The overarching aim of the project “Optimizing HIV prevention portfolios targeting people who inject drugs using dynamic economic modeling” is to optimize HIV prevention strategies for people who inject drugs (PWID) in 108 countries worldwide using dynamic economic modeling based on multiple large data sources.

The project will:

1) Develop an epidemic model to estimate the impact of HIV prevention portfolios among PWID for every country with available HIV prevalence data among PWID (108 countries), based on data from multiple large systematic reviews.

2) Externally validate the model in 9 key countries with the highest numbers of HIV-positive PWID (including Russia and Ukraine)

3) Develop a user-friendly and web-based multi-platform portal for dissemination of the epidemic economic model and associated data.

The research team of the project consists of:

Natasha Martin, DPhil, Associate Professor, a leading economic infectious disease modeler (University of California);

Steffanie Strathdee, PhD, Professor and a leading epidemiologist focusing on HIV among PWID with 500 publications;

Javier Cepeda, PhD, Assistant Professor, an economic modeler with expertise in cost data collection among PWID;

Peter Vickerman, DPhil, Professor, a leading modeler of HIV transmission among high-risk groups including PWID, MSM and FSWs (the University of Bristol);

Louisa Degenhardt, PhD, Professor, an epidemiologist with over a decade of experience in conducting global systematic reviews on IDU and health harms among PWID (the University of New South Wales);

Sarah Larney, PhD (the UNSW team).

 

UNAIDS outlines progress on HIV, but decries funding cuts

The Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS) released its latest report on the status of the HIV epidemic and the global response ahead of the 10th International AIDS Society Conference on HIV Science (IAS 2019), taking place this week in Mexico City.

The report highlights the impact community programmes have had in successfully expanding access to HIV treatment, supporting adherence and preventing new infections. However, it also shows that this progress is slowing and has been uneven, and that global funding for the HIV/AIDS response has fallen for the first time.

“We urgently need increased political leadership to end AIDS,” said UNAIDS interim executive director Gunilla Carlsson. “This starts with investing adequately and smartly and by looking at what’s making some countries so successful. Ending AIDS is possible if we focus on people, not diseases, create road maps for the people and locations being left behind, and take a human rights-based approach to reach people most affected by HIV.”

Some countries are meeting or exceeding the UNAIDS 90-90-90 targets – 90% of people living with HIV knowing their status, 90% of those diagnosed being on antiretroviral therapy and 90% of those on treatment having viral suppression by 2020 – while others are falling behind.

Global progress stood at 79% knowing their status, 78% on treatment and 86% with viral suppression in 2018. However, when looking at the proportion of all people living with HIV worldwide – not just the proportion of the previous subset – the figures are less impressive, with just 62% being on treatment and 53% having viral suppression.

But these figures mask some notable disparities. Nearly 90% of people in Western and Central Europe and North America know their HIV status and are on treatment, but only about 80% of those have an undetectable viral load. In Asia and Latin America, the proportions tested and on treatment are lower, but almost everyone on treatment has achieved viral suppression. Eastern Europe and Central Asia, the Middle East and North Africa, and Western and Central Africa are falling behind on all three measures.

Globally, new infections and AIDS-related deaths continue to decline, but less steeply than before. At the same time, the number of people on HIV treatment continues to rise and appears on track to meet the 2020 target. According to UNAIDS global estimates, in 2018:

  • 37.9 people worldwide were living with HIV;
  • 23.3 million (62%) had access to antiretroviral therapy;
  • 1.7 million newly acquired HIV;
  • 770,000 died from AIDS-related illnesses.

This represents a 16% drop in new infections since 2010, with most of the progress seen in Eastern and Southern Africa. But incidence has increased in some regions including Eastern Europe and Central Asia (up 29%), the Middle East and North Africa (up 10%) and Latin America (up 7%).

The report shows that members of key populations and their sexual partners now account for more than half (54%) of the 1.7 million people who newly acquired HIV in 2018. These groups include men who have sex with men, transgender people, sex workers, people who inject drugs and prisoners. In Eastern Europe and Central Asia and in the Middle East and North Africa, these populations are thought to account for 95% of new infections. Here too, the distribution of who bears the brunt of the epidemic varies widely by region.

Despite the availability of antiretrovirals that can prevent mother-to-child HIV transmission, just 82% of pregnant women have access to them, resulting in 160,000 new infections among children – well short of the target of less than 40,000.

Regarding HIV prevention, the report says that only around 300,000 people worldwide – including 130,000 in the US – are using pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP), although this is at best a rough estimate. Similarly, although people who inject drugs account for a high proportion of new HIV infections in some regions, many lack access to adequate harm reduction services.

Although it is harder to gauge progress in this area, the report notes that stigma, discrimination, criminalisation, harassment and violence remain problems for many people living with HIV.

 

The development of Community Advisory Councils in Tajikistan

Newly detected HIV cases in Tajikistan increased by 25% in 2010. Key populations most affected by HIV are people who use drugs (13.5%), gay men or other men who have sex with men (2.7%) and sex workers (3.5%). There is a growing concern that the prevalent pathway of HIV transmission has been radically changed from injecting drugs to sexual transmission. Moreover, HIV is also found more among migrants. This group often does not have knowledge of HIV prevention tools or has no access to health care services. Partners of migrants are now getting HIV as well. The fact that more women live with HIV also risks an increase in mother-to-child transmission.

In 2018, AFEW-Tajikistan expanded its NGO testing services for females who use drugs, sexual partners of people who use drugs (PUD), female prisoners and women living with HIV. With the aim of increased inclusion of people who use the services, Key Population Advisory Councils (KPACs) were established in four cities in Tajikistan: Bokhtar, Dushanbe, Khujand and Kulob. The KPACs represented people living with HIV, sex workers and people who use drugs. Per city, the KPAC consists of four members who serve a term of two years. These members bring recommendations forward and involve the service beneficiaries more closely.

The Tajikistan network of Women Living with HIV (TNW+) started mentoring the KPACs and introduced evaluation tools for people who use the services. While the members of the councils are changing a lot and regular training among members of the current KPACs is still desired, the councils now have a patient-complaint procedure. The concept of “being asked for feedback on your service” is new to Tajikistan and is showing results. In 2018, 85% of all total complaints received were positively resolved. The councils received training and have become convinced of the belief that they could change not only their lives but also society. Apart from monitoring tasks, the members of the councils also offer support on paralegal counselling and peer-to-peer education.

“A woman who used drugs gave birth to a baby. The Drug Treatment Service of Bokhtar has people show up and get their methadone before noon. Sometimes this woman was late because of all the duties with  a baby. Therefore, she sought help in a civil society organisation, which contacted the administration of the methadone site. Now the centre is open until 2 pm, and the woman I mentioned before can get her methadone easier.” 

Takhmina Khaidarova, TNW+

The expansion of service delivery for Civil Society Organisations in Tajikistan has led to a bigger coverage of services for key populations. People who use the services are now taking part in the development of services, planning and implementation of activities and the evaluation of provided services. It has also led to an improvement in providing services with longer opening hours, shorter waiting times in health facilities and friendlier attitudes of medical staff. Besides, TNW+ is linked to the daily reality of the people who use the services. The government considers civil society accountable for monitoring the services, providing feedback and seeing changes.

By integrating TNW+ and service beneficiaries into a system of service delivery, both the community network and the service beneficiaries are strengthened. This leads to more gender-sensitive services for female PUD, (ex)-prisoners and sexual partners of PUD.