Our goal is to help adolescents become stronger

For several years, International Charitable Foundation “AIDS Foundation East-West” (AFEW-Ukraine), a partner of AFEW International in Ukraine, has been successfully implementing programs aimed at working with adolescents who use psychoactive substances. This activity results in hundreds of strong and self-confident adolescents who change their lives and lives of people around them for the better.

Anastasia Shebardina, AFEW-Ukraine Senior Project Manager, told AFEW International how it all began and how her organization managed to mobilize the community of adolescents who use drugs through Bridging the Gaps program.

Why does Ukraine pay particular attention to working with youth?

Back in 2012, when Bridging the Gaps (BtG) program just started in Ukraine, we understood that most of the projects in our country are aimed at working with adult drug users. There was nothing like this for young people, and this is why we focused our work on adolescents who use psychoactive substances.

What is the peculiarity of your approach to working with youth?

Our work can be divided into 3 different directions. The first one is the so-called low-threshold services, when an adolescent can apply for a particular service one or more times through the project. For example, he/she can be tested for HIV, get contacts of organizations where he/she can get help. As a rule, such an adolescent is not ready for systematic work and drastic changes. The second direction is working with adolescents who come with a specific request for help, requiring a comprehensive solution. For example, often these young people may have problems in educational institutions, difficulties with documents etc. We invite an adolescent to join a case management program in one of the youth friendly centers. In total, there are 4 such centers under the BtG program in Ukraine. They are located in Kropyvnytskyi, Poltava, Kharkiv and Chernivtsi. Case management in these centers is designed for a period of 3 to 6 months. But if youngsters have a need to get help longer, we extend the program for a longer period.

The third area is rehabilitation programs for adolescents who are willing to change and want to reduce or completely stop drug use. One of such programs has already been working in Chernivtsi for a long time; it is designed for six months. This is a structured program, within which an adolescent gets several obligations – he/she needs to come to the center regularly, participate in group events, and so on. Recently, we started a similar rehabilitation program in Kharkiv.

What difficulties did you encounter at the start?

At first, we were not sure whether public organizations in Ukraine would be able to work with youth without having official permissions from parents and governmental bodies. However, having analyzed Ukrainian legislation, we realized that it didn’t have a clear regulation on how to work with adolescents or any kinds of restrictions.

There were also difficulties of a different nature: firstly, since young people rarely use injecting drugs, they almost never turn to harm reduction programs for services, so accessing this group was complicated. As for rehabilitation programs, they also could not reach young people, as they are primarily designed to work with adult drug users and do not take into account the peculiarities of working with adolescents. Participation of adolescents in such rehabilitation programs could do more harm than good.

At first, it was hard, because public organizations had mainly worked with adult drug users and needed to learn the peculiarities of working with adolescents from scratch.

However, the biggest difficulty was working with parents. The fact is that most often an adolescent who has problems in life and who practices risky behavior, does not have good contact with the parents. Therefore, it was difficult to expect that adults would behave actively and participate in our activities when a complicated situation arose. Some are very busy, some just don’t want to come to the centers, some believe that parents should not help children solve their problems with risky behavior, and this is the job of state institutions. They simply do not understand that in many cases it is working with parents that really helps to correct the situation.

What has changed over 8 years in the field of working with youth?

Young people got noticed – this is the main change! People making youth-related decisions locally have become more loyal to them, more open to dialogue. Programs to counteract the spread of drugs and prevent HIV that are being developed at the local regional level have started targeting adolescents as a separate group. The attitude of specialists towards youth is gradually changing, they began to understand how important it is to have special programs for the younger generation. For instance, we began to receive much more requests from other organizations. Educational institutions and services that work actively with adolescents redirect to us those who have problems with the use of psychoactive substances.

What is the goal of our activity?

Our goal is to help teens reach their goals. Of course, we would like adolescents to change their behavior to a safer one so that they stop using psychoactive substances. But it’s important to understand what adolescents come with initially. Most often they come with a question that is not directly related to drug use. And our experience shows that when these issues are resolved, they also change their behavior in relation to the use of psychoactive substances. Various unresolved situations in life lead to risky behavior: self-doubt, conflicts, difficulties, somatic diseases, failures. Therefore, in relation to young people it is so important to work with the problem as a whole. Also, you need to work with what is important for adolescents, and not what we, adults, think would be better for them. Any social programs should work that way. The more tools we give people to deal with difficulties, the easier it is for them to change the situation in other areas of life. We give an adolescent the resources to become stronger. But of course, we also educate young people about overdoses, safe sex and drug use.

You have a special program for working with youth leaders. What is it like?

A few years ago, it seemed to us that adolescents were not very interested in public activities. It was difficult for us to find an active adolescent who publicly talked about his/her problems and problems of the social group. Therefore, we started to actively explore various opportunities for attracting youth. Thus, we began to search for our most active clients, trained them, and involved in the organization of events. In 2018, we gave them an opportunity to create their own projects and started to issue grants for leadership initiatives. We were telling the participants how to create projects, set indicators, implement activities and write reports. In the end, we invited them to create their own small projects, where they will do everything from beginning to end by themselves – write a plan, report, implement. The first year was difficult, but since last year we noticed that this direction has become the most effective in our work on mobilizing community and attracting leaders. The bottom line is that when you give adolescents the opportunity to be responsible for something, when they feel that this is their own project, then they change a lot.

Which projects in the leaders’ program were most remarkable?

All projects are interesting in their own way. Personally, I really noted an online magazine in Chernivtsi. It was called “This magazine is as good as the son of mother’s friend”. It contained articles on completely different topics, the youngsters interviewed representatives of the police, doctors, etc. Adolescents were reading this magazine, commenting online. Many of them, having read the articles in the magazine, would come to our program.

There was also an interesting project on creation of a cinema club. Adolescents selected films by themselves, organized shows, handed out tickets. One could only enter the club by completing a special task. This gaming element was especially attractive for young people.

I should say that before this project, many adolescents came to us with a certain caution, because they were usually brought by parents or the police. After the leaders’ project, we noticed that it was the leaders who became the first contact point for such adolescents. Thus, the leaders were peer consultants. Since 2018, we have supported 9 projects like that. In 2020 there will be a continuation of the project.

How exactly do teenagers change during their participation in such projects?

When we conducted a focus group with leaders, we heard that thanks to the project, someone changed their relationship with parents, it became easier for someone to express their point of view, to analyze problems without quarrels. Someone said that he plans to continue studying professions, some saw that projects can really help, some stopped spending all their free time on the street. The youngsters really changed for the better.

I remember that one of the participants even started working as a social worker in another organization. This is a very significant indicator, because it means that he evaluated social activities in such a way that he himself wanted to do it. He saw the value of helping others, changing lives. I also noticed that adolescents are pleased to conduct various trainings and seminars on their own, they feel they are the owners of unique knowledge and are proud of it. In schools, they are no longer afraid to go to the blackboard. Teachers sometimes ask us what we did with an adolescent that resulted in him starting to raise his hand in class. We just developed his self-confidence.

In September you plan to host the MARA Youth Conference. What is special about this event?

The MARA 2020 Conference – Most-At-Risk Adolescents – will be the second. We conducted the first one in 2015 at the end of the first phase of Bridging the Gaps project. This is a conference on the well-being and health of adolescents. It is not limited to any key groups, but it is important to note that this is the only conference in Ukraine that focuses on the adolescents at risk. We have created a working group of representatives from various organizations, and together we choose which topics are interesting for discussion, who should be invited as speakers. Last time the conference was opened by adolescents themselves – in order to do that, they had gone through a training in public speaking beforehand. This year we will strengthen this component: the conference will have a separate section where adolescents will participate on equal terms with adult specialists.

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.

EECA INTERACT is a step towards the development of unified community

Why is the Workshop EECA INTERACT so important for the EECA region?

Alexei Alexandrov, a member of the international committee of EECA INTERACT 2019, head of Minsk regional clinical centre “Psychiatry-narcology”.

EECA INTERACT can become a model for building regional and country interaction between young and experienced researchers, medical practitioners, employees of non-governmental organizations and members of community initiatives, as well as representatives of the government.

All these specialists are involved in solving the problems of HIV infection, tuberculosis and viral hepatitis, and also related problems of drug use, criminalization, prison health, stigma and human rights. The exchange of experience by specialists from EECA countries with similar situations on HIV, TB, Hep, drug use, the results of new studies and expert assessments will allow choosing the best solutions to change the situation and begin to really implement them.

For me, EECA INTERACT is not only a meeting with new colleagues and getting acquainted with the results of their work, discussing pressing issues, forming direct contacts to continue cooperation or a network of interaction. The seminar is a continuation of the efforts that we, experts of the EECA countries, are directing to respond to the HIV epidemic in the region, implementation of those innovations that have already been tested in the world and are evidence-based.

The workshop is a step towards the development of a unified scientific, expert and practical community of our countries, united by common tasks. Everyone can have their own vision of the situation, challenges and solutions, but only joint discussion and analysis will allow finding potential points of influence for success.

 

How would you rate the development of clinical and research networks in the EECA region today?

Sergii Dvoriak, a member of the international committee of EECA INTERACT 2019, M.D., D.Med.Sci, founder and senior scientist, UIPHP, professor at the department of social work, ALSRT.

In our region, a lot of problems are associated with the traditions and imperfections of medical education. For several years I conducted training seminars “Effective Treatment of Drug Dependence” in Salzburg (organized by the Open Society Foundation), where all participants, mainly doctors, were divided into 2 groups, the Russian-speaking from EECA and the English-speaking from Southeast Asia and Africa. People from EECA were educated in the “Soviet” system, the others – in the “Western”.

I noticed a very clear difference in the methods for solving clinical problems. People from EECA went into “philosophy” and the so-called pathogenetic way of thinking, and “Western” immediately appealed to existing protocols and standards, objective data, etc. I then realized that many of our specialists need to be retrained and they should focus on evidence-based methods, and not on general considerations and “clinical points of view.” For this, we need such meetings like EECA INTERACT, where these points can be emphasized. It is important also that decision-makers participate in such events.

In Ukraine over the past 10 years, significant progress has been made in the development of clinical and research links. To some extent, a solid research infrastructure has been created, several organizations were found which can not only participate in international collaborative projects but also independently carry out research and receive funding from donors such as National Institutes of Health, CDC, WHO etc. Unfortunately, national donors are still very sparingly involved in this process.

Ministry of Health also does not understand enough how important the systematic and continuous process of conducting scientific research is, and the importance of implementation projects is underestimated.

Officials believe that only mainly state institutions have the right to make scientific research. They expect global discoveries or creation of new vaccines, effective drugs, but they do not really understand that in the modern world only a limited number of countries and companies are able to take such steps. There are no such resources in EECA countries, but this does not mean that research is not needed. Doctors should be involved in scientific projects as much as possible, because this disciplines clinical thinking, makes it possible to get acquainted with the modern scientific context.

 

 

 

 

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. 

Facts abour EECA region

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

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

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

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

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.

 

Mariias Frolova: “The Most Important Thing is Working Together”

Author: Olya Kulyk, ICF “AIDS Foundation East-West” (AFEW-Ukraine)

Last year, AFEW-Ukraine gathered young activists of the project “Bridging the Gaps: Health and Rights for Key Populations” from four cities of Ukraine in a Summer Camp. One of the goals was to teach teenagers to design projects and prepare their own applications for funding. The projects created during the camp later were sent to AFEW-Ukraine’s competition of small grants.

18-year-old Mariias Frolova is a leader of the youth community centre “Compass” from the Community Organisation “Kharkiv charitable fund “Blago”. “Compass” is a centre for adolescents who use drugs. AFEW-Ukraine supports four of such centres in Ukraine. Mariias is telling about the projects of her team.

Mariias, please tell us why did you decide to create the projects for youth?

– I decided to develop projects for youth when I participated in the camp for project leaders of Bridging the Gaps project. After training, I thought that I could do something useful for myself or for other young people.

In “Compass” we often get together, play and discuss things. Our team got the idea of ​​watching films together and discussing them later. Initially, we wanted to choose educational films – about diseases, human rights and so on, so that we learn more. Then as a bonus, we added fiction films. We needed some extra equipment – a beamer, screen, and speakers.

AFEW-Ukraine supported the purchase of this equipment.

Our second project is called “QR code”. The project helps adolescents to learn more about their rights. One day our friend asked: “What would I do if I did not know about “Compass?” This made us think that not everyone knows about the centre and how cool it is, as this is the place for the adolescents to get help. We needed to inform adolescents that they can come to “Compass” while facing different situations in their lives. Now QR codes are popular. Through scanning them, you can get access to different information, so we decided to use them for informing youth about their rights and inviting them to the centre.

Who is the target audience for your projects and how do you inform about them?

– We locate our QR codes in schools and lyceums of Kharkiv. By scanning the QR code (there are six of them), adolescents are directed to the information about “Compass”, information about HIV, reproductive health, psychoactive substances and police. After reading the information, teenagers are offered to answer online questions on these topics. After passing the quest with six different topics and completing the task, participants receive an invitation to “Compass” and get a ticket to our cinema.

 Target group of the projects is youth of 14-19 years old, usually from not very rich families, often having limited access to leisure activities. Therefore, free movie screening is very attractive for them.

What are your achievements in projects implementations?

– Since October, we had 13 film screenings with 105 participants, followed by interesting in-depth discussions. 

Due to QR codes project, more people began to visit “Compass”. 64 people received invitations to come to the centre and the cinema. Some visitors to our cinema stay here for services… Since November last year, we received more than 260 answers to our online questionnaires.

QR codes and movie screening stimulate youth to learn more about HIV, drug use, reproductive health issues. Those who come to watch the movie, are also involved in discussions about safer behaviours. Social workers from the centre are invited for facilitating discussions and can immediately respond to any question or provide individual or group counselling if needed.

How did you benefit from creating and implementing projects?

– It was a great experience. After the projects I mentioned above, we developed a new one, submitted it to one big organization and won a grant that will allow us to have a gym in our centre.

I am confident that the most important thing is to work together. We can have different opinions, which can sometimes create problems, but instead of arguing we have to decide on everything together.

Research: ‘Virus Carriers’ and HIV Testing: Navigating Ukraine’s HIV Policies and Programming for Female Sex Workers

Background

There are an estimated 80,100 female sex workers (FSWs) in Ukraine, of whom 7% are living with HIV. Early HIV diagnosis continues to be a public health priority in Ukraine as only approximately 54% of people living with HIV are diagnosed nationwide. This study aims to analyse the content, context and discourse of HIV testing policies among female sex workers in Ukraine and how these policies are understood and implemented in practice.

Methods

To analyse past and current national policies, we searched the database of the Ukrainian Parliament and the Ministry of Health for relevant policy documents (e.g. legislation and orders). To analyse the day-to-day practice of those involved in the implementation of these HIV programmes, we conducted face-to-face semi-structured interviews with key stakeholders. All data were coded using deductive thematic analysis initially guided by the Policy Triangle, a framework which addresses policy content, the process of policy-making, the health policy context, actors involved in policy formulation and implementation.

Results

HIV testing policies are formed and implemented in the post-Soviet context through a vertical system of AIDS clinics, resulting in the separation of key affected populations from the rest of the health system. Successive testing policies have been strongly influenced by international donors and non-governmental organisations. Furthermore, a lack of government funding for HIV prevention created a gap that international donors and local non-governmental organisations covered to ensure the implementation of testing policies. Their role, however, had limited influence on the Ukrainian government to increase funding for prevention, including testing of FSWs. Since the early 1990s, when stigmatising and discriminatory forced/mandatory HIV testing was applied, these approaches were slowly replaced with voluntary testing, self-testing and assisted HIV testing, yet stigma was found to be a barrier among FSWs to access testing.

Conclusion

Poor governance and the fragmentation of the health system, ongoing health sector reforms, shrinking international funding, and persisting stigma towards people living with HIV and sex workers might impede the continuity and sustainability of HIV testing programmes. Local civil society may now have the opportunity to contribute to the development and further implementation of HIV testing policies in Ukraine.

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