At our own risk. EECA’s reponse to COVID-19.

Yuri Avdeev, Chairman of the Board of the Chelyabinsk City Public Organization “Independent Research Center “There is an opinion”, Russia

For your information:

The independent research center “There is an opinion” has been working in the field of prevention of socially dangerous diseases and research of various aspects of social life since 2000. The Center works to reduce the spread of socially dangerous diseases, such as HIV infection, tuberculosis and sexually transmitted infections; provides assistance in overcoming psychological and communication problems (difficulties in communication, self-confidence); assistance in disclosing personal qualities, self-fulfillment of personality; socio-psychological, informational assistance to people living with HIV and TB, as well as their significant environment.

At present, the “There is an opinion” centre is the largest operator of rapid HIV testing in the Urals. Every year 19,000 residents of the Chelyabinsk Region and its border areas become clients of the programme. The main target groups are men who have sex with men (MSM), transgender people (TG), people who use drugs (PWUD) and the general population.

Difficulties caused by the virus

For five years our organization has been working in the context of HIV prevention with MSM/TG. Weekly on Fridays, two teams of specialists (psychologist + nurse) worked in two nightclubs for LGBT people, carrying out rapid HIV testing, pre- and post-test counseling, distributing prevention information materials, condoms and lubricants, and accompanying identified clients to be registered with the AIDS Center. Due to the announcement of the self-isolation regime, nightclubs are closed, so we are no longer able to continue our normal work at their base. The testing room is also closed.

Unfortunately, this situation paralyzed the work of our organization and most of the activities were stopped. Many people go online, but we should understood that online counselling, for example, will not replace HIV testing and the issuance of condoms and lubricants.

Innovations

On April 7th, at our own risk, we reopened the testing room in the evening, because we received a request from clients for testing and obtaining condoms and lubricants. The cooperation with the AIDS Center helped us to do this. In addition, today we are delivering ARVT drugs for HIV+ patients in Chelyabinsk, including MSM. We have received special passes for being in the city.

We have noticed that those who receive ART at home are even happy about it, because now they do not have to take a ticket and wait in line. However, nightclub visitors are not very happy with these innovations, but the most motivated members of the community themselves come to the testing room to receive HIV prevention and testing.

In our work we try to follow all the necessary recommendations of the regional Government: the reception is held by appointment; social distance is respected; precautions are taken – specialists work with masks, gloves and glasses, the client is given a mask; surfaces are wiped with a disinfector; washing of the room takes place every 2 hours.

Of course, statistics for our activities have fallen. Whereas we used to serve up to an average of 100 MSM/TG per month, now the number has dropped by almost 5 times.

What’s next?

Today we are thinking about self-testing. We only work with blood tests, and today it is not the most convenient option. So we’re negotiating with donors to buy saliva tests.

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