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

 

The Knowledge Not Available Before

In 2018, AFEW Kyrgyzstan started training the doctors of family health centres and maternity clinics in providing assistance to the pregnant women who use psychoactive substances (PAS) within the project “Bridging the Gaps: Health and Rights for Key Populations”.

Fear of judgment

According to the assessment held in 2014 within the project supported by the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, TB and Malaria, the number of people who inject drugs in the country was 25,000 people, 12% of them being women. Besides, another study showed a rapid growth in the number of pregnant women with HIV.

Women who use drugs usually seek medical assistance less frequently than men. The reason for it is their fear of judgment and discrimination, fear to lose their children. In 2016, AFEW Kyrgyzstan and a group of experts with support of the project “Bridging the GapsHealth and Rights for Key Populations” developed an action plan for women who use psychoactive substances to provide comprehensive and timely support to such women. In the beginning, guidelines for doctors and nurses were developed called “Management of Pregnancy, Labour and Postpartum Period in Women Who Use Psychoactive Substances”. Besides, AFEW Kyrgyzstan together with experts and community members organized workshops for the doctors of family health centres and maternity clinics in Bishkek and Osh and introduced a training module in the post-graduate education of health workers. Monitoring of the knowledge using such guidelines allowed identifying a big gap in the level of knowledge between the doctors from Bishkek and Osh. There can be various reasons for such situation, but the decision taken as a result of the monitoring was to support the activities of a multidisciplinary team led by the Podruga Charitable Foundation to provide quality training to the health workers in Osh. Such team was created with support of AFEW Kyrgyzstan and the project “Bridging the GapsHealth and Rights for Key Populations”.

Fighting stigma and discrimination

Since March 2018, the multidisciplinary team trained 72 doctors in all family health centres and maternity clinics in Osh. According to Irina who is a social worker at Podruga Charitable Foundation and the project coordinator, when most health workers come to the workshops, they lack trust. They say: “We do not have any female patients who use drugs, and even if there are some, why do we need to treat them – they can be just sent somewhere, and that’s it”. “Usually, women do not tell doctors that they use drugs, they are afraid to say that they have HIV”, says Irina. “As for the doctors, they do not pay attention to it. However, pregnant women living with HIV require a special approach to avoid possible complications and to make sure that mothers-to-be are not afraid to seek medical assistance and get tested. The truth is, though, that after the training most of them change their point of view”.

Before start, all the training participants fill in questionnaires. The results are not so brilliant – the average score is 5-7 correct answers out of 20. After they complete the training, the results are much better: most health workers have not more than one incorrect answer or make no mistakes at all. “I am very happy that after the workshops doctors at least start noticing that there are women who use PAS among their patients. Now, if an HIV-positive woman or a woman who uses PAS comes to them, they often call me or the trainers, we look at her case and try to help every woman. That’s how lives are saved”, smiles Irina.

To a great extent, the training is effective due to the fact that doctors with extensive experience are part of the multidisciplinary team. Each of the trainers is a role model and a real expert. Thanks to the trainers’ reputation, the participants are more willing to listen to them and agree with them. That is how the ice of misunderstanding and ill treatment is broken.

Gradual improvement

It should be noted that the project helps the health workers to work not only with pregnant women. Nadezhda Sharonova, Director of Podruga Charitable Foundation, says that now it is easier for their organization to find friendly specialists and women who use PAS do not have to fight hard to receive health care as more doctors are now willing to help the patients and treat them better.

“Once a woman came to me, she started crying and said that a cleaner told all other patients of the maternity clinic about her HIV positive status, so nobody wanted to talk to her, people turned their backs on her and the doctors were rude and neglectful”, tells Irina. She says that such cases are less frequent now. Irina recognizes that through one-time training it is not possible to ruin all the fears and stereotypes, which have been building up for many years, but it can at least considerably improve the situation. In our work, the phrase “improve the situation” means better lives of women and children that can be saved with this new knowledge.

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!”

 

 

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, Dmitriy Kadeikin, consultant, 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.

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

 

For people living with HIV in Belarus

Since July 19, 2019, a new version of article 157 “Transmission of Human Immunodeficiency Virus” of the Criminal Code of Belarus has been enforced. Despite the approved amendments to this article, it still contributes to vulnerability of the key populations, in particular serodiscordant couples (where one of the partners has HIV). However, a solution has been found, thanks to which the amendment will be able to serve for the benefit of people living with HIV.

For reference

There is a number of important provisions in the new version of article 157 of the Criminal Code of Belarus.

  • Knowingly exposing another person to HIV is punished with a fine or an arrest or imprisonment for up to three years.
  • If an individual, who knows about being infected with HIV, transmits HIV to another person recklessly or with indirect intent, this offense is punished with imprisonment for the term from two to seven years.
  • The action stipulated by the second part of this article committed against two or more persons, or a person who is known to be a minor, or with direct intent, is punished with imprisonment for the term from five to 13 years.

Besides, the amendment to this article says that the individual committing the actions stipulated in the first and second parts of the article may be relieved from the criminal liability in case if the other person, who was exposed to HIV or was infected with HIV, had been in advance warned about the fact that such individual had HIV and voluntarily agreed to perform any acts, which led to HIV exposure.

Avoiding prosecution

Before this amendment was enforced, the People PLUS Republican Public Association in cooperation with the Republican Center for Hygiene and Epidemiology held a round table to develop a set of measures, which would allow people to fully use the amendments in laws and protect themselves from the criminal prosecution. It resulted in the development of a road map and other documents regulating the fact of warning, which would lead to the enforcement of this amendment. Such documents include.

– New form “How to warn another person that I have HIV”

– Form to warn a contact person of a patient with HIV

– Memo on HIV prevention

Anatoliy Leshenok, Director of the People PLUS Republican Public Association

“When preparing the documents, we tried to take into account any possible circumstances and potential barriers,” says Anatoliy Leshenok, Deputy Director of the People PLUS Republican Public Association. “For example, the Investigative Committee, commenting on the amendment, pointed out that it is important to understand what is the procedure to check in which state an individual gave his or her consent to have a contact with a person living with HIV, to check if he or she had enough information, etc. The Notary Chamber suggested to register informed consent as a confirmation of consent for the contact with a person living with HIV. The Republican Center for Hygiene and Epidemiology developed a new notification form to be used when registering people with HIV diagnoses for follow-up, provided explanations on the amendment to article 157 of the Criminal Code of Belarus and told that it is possible to come to them with a partner to register the fact of warning of HIV exposure. A memo on HIV notification has also been developed and will be published within our project. It will be given to the partners of HIV-positive people. The memo contains contact details of the organizations providing services to PLWH as well as legal consultations.”

Who is at risk?

In the recent 6 months, there were 55 criminal cases initiated in Belarus based on article 157 of the Criminal Code. This number is similar to the one that was registered in 2018. However, it should be noted that 28 cases out of this total number were opened based on the first part of this article, where there is no fact of HIV transmission, but only a perceived risk.

“Recently, we were defense witnesses at a court hearing, when the defendant was charged with putting five sexual partners at risk of HIV,” tells Anatoliy. “The defendant did not transmit HIV to any of those partners – he took ARVs and had an undetectable viral load. The court took into the consideration the scientific consensus statement on HIV transmission, the answer of a WHO representative and the reply from the Professor of the Infectious Disease Department of the Belarus State University on the risk of HIV transmission by a person with suppressed viral load. However, the verdict of the court was that there was still a risk of HIV transmission, so the sentence remained unchanged – 18 months at standard regime penal colony. Just imagine – 18 months of imprisonment for not transmitting HIV to anyone!”

In fact, article 157 put a question mark over the existence of serodiscordant couples, who often live together for many years and even have children. Usually, within such criminal cases charges are brought against a husband or a wife, while the “victim” clearly states in court that he or she has no complaints to the spouse and that he or she was consciously taking risk to conceive a child with a loved one.

Drawbacks of this article also relate to the fact that criminal cases are initiated with no complaints from the victim.

“When making amendments in article 157, we were suggesting more radical changes – to fully exclude responsibility for exposure to HIV from this article – but the society is so far not ready for such changes,” continued Anatoliy. “Currently, the cases initiated based on this article are reviewed, where the sentences directly state that the partner was informed about HIV and consciously agreed to the actions, which led to HIV transmission or exposure to HIV. According to the Code of Criminal Procedure, the review of such cases is initiated by penal colonies and prisons, and if a person is not imprisoned, such person should file a relevant request for review with a court.”

First successes 

Approval of the amendment to article 157 of the Criminal Code “Transmission of HIV” allowed talking about the first successes of the activists in HIV response in Belarus. Now hundreds of people can have the record of their conviction expunged.

“People PLUS” thanks for the help provided in 2017-2019 by HIV justice, GNP +, EWNA. Amendment to art. 157  was brought in  Criminal Code Belarus thanks financial and technical assistance from these organizations.

Thanks the Emergency Support Fund for Key Populations in Eastern Europe and Central Asia (EECA) People PLUS have implemented additional set of measures people living with HIV in Belarus will be able to avoid criminal prosecution.

Kazakhstan: Reducing Stigma and Pills – Improving Adherence to Treatment

Author: Oksana Maklakova, Russia

In early May, Kazakhstan presented and discussed a new concept of providing antiretroviral treatment (ART) to people living with HIV. The concept will be implemented in 2021–2025. Of Kazakhstan’s 19,384 patients registered in HIV care in 2018, 77% are on ART. This quite high indicator gives Kazakh doctors and civil society activists hope that the UN 90/90/90 targets will be achieved in the country.

One-stop shop approach

“Of course, there is a problem with adherence to treatment in Kazakhstan. Treatment regimens change not only because some patients are resistant to certain drugs and need new combinations, but because sometimes there are interruptions in the supply of certain drugs. Optimized treatment regimens and improved quality of treatment as an objective was included in the new strategy by UNICEF and the Kazakh Scientific Centre of Dermatology and Infectious Diseases. NGOs are also working towards achieving this objective. For example, reduction to just eight universal and effective treatment regimens is planned,” says Lyubov Vorontsova, project coordinator of the Central Asian Association of People Living with HIV.

Since 2017, Kazakhstan has been implementing a “test and treat” strategy. In line with WHO guidelines, antiretroviral treatment is prescribed and provided to patients on the same day they are diagnosed with HIV, without waiting for immune status or viral load indicators. Procurement of antiretroviral drugs (ARVs) is regulated and funded by the government. However, access to ART is still a crucial issue in remote areas of Kazakhstan.

“Last year we monitored adherence to treatment in different cities of Kazakhstan. We wanted to find out, firstly, why people are afraid to start therapy, and secondly, why people drop out after they start ART. The first thing we heard is that people are scared of side effects (though in this regard modern drugs are much better than older ones). People also mentioned treatment fatigue, as ART is a life-long therapy. However, there are also remote areas where people have problems with physically accessing the drugs as they live 300 kilometres away from the AIDS centre and do not always have time and money to go and pick up their medications,” says Vorontsova.

Quitting therapy after the baby is born

People living with HIV (PLWH) in Kazakhstan, as in many other countries of eastern Europe and central Asia, are concerned about the quality of ARVs. Kazakhstan is gradually transitioning to modern regimens which are easier to tolerate, have almost no side effects and, most importantly, are more convenient to take. The biggest challenge for both doctors and civil society activists is stigma, self-stigma and discrimination.

Project coordinator of the Central Asian Association of People Living with HIV Lyubov Vorontsova

“We often hear stories about people who are afraid to take pills at work as someone may see them. There have been cases when colleagues saw a person taking ARVs, then checked the name of the drug on the internet and found out that this person had HIV. As a result, he or she was fired. Of course, such incidents have a negative impact on adherence to treatment,” comments Vorontsova.

There are also problems with the information pregnant women with HIV receive in antenatal clinics. Mothers-to-be agree to start taking ARVs as it is important for their babies. This approach often leads to a situation where the woman stops treatment after delivery. She saves her child, but nobody tells her that first of all she needs the therapy to take care of her own health. To avoid such cases, Kazakhstan would like to introduce peer counselling for pregnant women.

The problem of adherence is crucial in key populations – men who have sex with men, people who use drugs, and sex workers. Due to self-stigma, many do not access health services. It is often much easier for such people to receive support from a civil society organization (CSO) than to go to a government health centre. For this reason, last year many CSOs in Kazakhstan started to actively implement testing and self-testing programmes.

Bargaining for lives

In order to reach as many people living with HIV as possible with quality modern treatment, the Kazakh Ministry of Health decided to procure ARVs through international agencies. It was expected that procuring drugs at minimum prices would allow coverage of patients with new ART regimens to double in the following months, and accelerate transition from older to more modern drugs. However, this spring Almaty residents faced interruptions in the supply of the vital medication dolutegravir.

The Ministry of Health of Kazakhstan and the Pharmacy Committee held negotiations about including Kazakhstan into the voluntary license, which would reduce procurement prices for generic dolutegravir from USD 118 to USD 4.5 This would enable provision of effective therapy to all PLWH in Kazakhstan. However, the patent owner said that only low-income countries can be included in the voluntary license on such terms, and left the old price for Kazakhstan.

“Dolutegravir is really a high-quality medication. It has very few side effects. As there are interruptions in the supply of this drug, patients are transferred to other treatment regimens,” says Vorontsova.

The next delivery of dolutegravir is expected in June. The Ministry of Health will then prepare documents to submit for compulsory licensing, under which generic drugs can be procured at a lower price.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

AFEW-Kyrgyzstan Opens a Social Beauty Salon in Bishkek

Head of AFEW-Kyrgyzstan Natalya Shumskaya is cutting the red ribbon during the ceremony of opening the salon

Author: Grana Ziia, AFEW-Kyrgyzstan

March 7, Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan

The city is stuck in pre-holiday traffic jams. Flower stands with colourful tulips are opening near a big shopping mall. Today flowers are in demand among the guests of a new beauty salon called Good Luck. They are doing their best to come in time for the opening ceremony. The salon is located in the city centre, surrounded by popular coffee houses, schools and apartment buildings. There is a red ribbon at the entrance to the salon. Music is playing. The guests are holding bright flowers, balloons, and cakes in their hands. Everyone is hugging, greeting each other and congratulating the AFEW-Kyrgyzstan team. It is easy to tell what the reason for such joy is.

“Good Luck is a ‘kind’ beauty studio – a social enterprise established to support women in difficult life circumstances. We opened it with the support of the UN Women Fund for Gender Equality. We are implementing a project, where women can attend workshops to develop their personal skills and knowledge of the economy and then receive mini-grants to start their own businesses. When we saw that there were many women who needed our support, we decided that we wanted to develop this area of our activities,” tells Natalya Shumskaya, head of AFEW-Kyrgyzstan, before cutting the red ribbon.

Supporting those who need support

In several minutes, the guests come inside. In the main room, they are welcomed by the staff members – six women in snow-white uniforms. They have happy smiles on their faces and are proudly fixing their badges. In the room, there are black chairs for make-up artists and hairdressers, a long manicure table and mirrors with bright lights.

AFEW-Kyrgyzstan opened a social beauty salon with the support of the UN Women Fund for Gender Equality

The studio looks like a cosy house, where every detail is chosen with love. The pink wall in the centre of the room has been painted by the salon staff. There are bright pillows on the couch and glossy magazines on the glass table. Lots of flowers and balloons. Make-up, shampoos and hair dye tubes on the shelves. You just feel like touching, watching and trying everything here.

After the welcoming speeches, the Good Luck salon gets noisy. The clients in their chairs are turning catalogues to choose their nail polish, discussing their haircuts with hairdressers or choosing the colour of their eyebrows. Someone is already washing hair. At first sight, it looks like those are just ordinary people preening their feathers on the eve of the International Women’s Day. However, if you listen to people talking, it becomes clear that it is not so simple.

“For us it is close, so we will come and support them. It is good when all the money earned goes to help women who need help,” shares her thoughts Aida Karagulova, Director of the City AIDS Centre.

Women will be trained

Natalya Shumskaya is sure that this beauty studio will become a turning point in someone’s life

Clients were satisfied with the services they received. The guests were making photos and paying compliments to each other. With their new haircuts, make-up and nails done, they went on to finish their festive preparations.

“We have a training centre here at the salon, where we plan to train women in difficult life circumstances to become beauty salon artists so that they can find jobs,” says Indira, the salon manager, taking us on a tour to show the premises.

Natalya Shumskaya presents a flower in a big pot to the studio and it takes an honourable place at the entrance. The flower is called Women’s Bliss.

“Here it is a good place for this plant as this salon works for those who are looking for their bliss so hard! I am sure that this beauty studio will become a turning point in someone’s life, helping to find a job, start a new career and believe in the woman’s power and right to independence,” says Natalya Shumskaya before she leaves the salon.

Olena Voskresenska: “2018 Was Very Active and Diverse for AFEW-Ukraine”

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

The executive director of International Charitable Foundation “AIDS Foundation East-West” (AFEW-Ukraine) Olena Voskresenska is telling about the main achievements of organisation in 2018 and its plans for 2019.

– Olena, how was the year of 2018 for AFEW-Ukraine?

– 2018 was a very active and diverse year for AFEW-Ukraine. During the last year we strengthened and expanded our work on empowering key communities, developing community leaders and facilitating the dialogue between the communities. In our work with adolescents who use drugs within the project “Bridging the gaps: health and rights for key populations”, the special focus was on developing youth leaders. In 2018, young activists from four regions of Ukraine had a chance to develop their own projects, and small grants that we provided to them allowed young people to implement youth-led projects in their regions. Through the Country Key Populations Platform, that we continue to support, we had an opportunity to learn more about the needs of different key populations – people who use drugs, sex workers, LGBT, and ex-prisoners. We also help the communities to develop communication algorithms to ensure that the voices from the most remote areas of the country are heard by the community leaders.

Besides, at the end of the year, we started the project aimed at empowering HIV-positive women in Kyiv and Cherkassy as advocates for their rights. The project was supported by the Embassy of Norway – a new donor for our organization.

– What were the three main achievements over the past year that you can determine?

– Since 2011, AFEW-Ukraine has been working with adolescents who use drugs, and I am very proud that in 2018 we managed to expand this work to small cities and rural areas of Ukraine. It was possible thanks to the project “Underage, overlooked: Improving access to Integrated HIV Services for Adolescents Most at Risk in Ukraine” that is supported by Expertise France – Initiative 5%. The project is implemented in cooperation with Alliance of Public Health, and now services for adolescents who use drugs are developed in 28 small cities of seven regions of Ukraine. Initial project research, that is now being finalized, is the first of its kind not only in Ukraine but probably in most of the countries of Eastern Europe and Central Asia (EECA).

In 2018, AFEW-Ukraine supported the development of standards on rehabilitation for the Ministry of Social Policy. I am very proud that we managed to bring together a good team of experts for working on the standards, including a representative of the community of people who use drugs. We hope that these standards will help to improve the quality of rehabilitation services in the country, based on the best international practices, human rights approach and needs of the community. We are very much looking forward to further work in this direction not only in Ukraine but also in Georgia.

2018 was also a very important year for all HIV service organisations, as it was the year of the 22nd International AIDS Conference that took place in the Netherlands. Being a part of AFEW Network, with AFEW International Secretariat in Amsterdam, we worked hard to ensure maximum involvement of EECA participants in the conference and attracting attention to our region. I am very happy that we managed to support a large delegation of AFEW-Ukraine partners, including young activist from Kropyvnytskyi, representatives of the community of people who use drugs, and HIV-positive women from Ukraine.

– What are the plans of the Foundation for 2019?

– In 2019 we will continue working with young people in Ukraine, focusing on their active involvement in decision-making processes, including monitoring of the local budgets. I hope that we will be able to expand our work to include young detainees in our projects.

Developing harm reduction friendly rehabilitation remains a priority for us, and we will stimulate the changes in current rehabilitation practices in Ukraine and Georgia with our local partners. Also, we are very much looking forward to closer working with HIV-positive women in Ukraine, disseminating the successful model of immediate intervention that was already tested in Kyiv, to Cherkasy, and potentially other regions of the country. In 2019 we are also planning to revise our strategic plan, which will define the priorities of AFEW-Ukraine’s work for the upcoming several years.