AFEW International Releases Report on Its Activities for AIDS 2018 Conference

AFEW Network (AFEW)  has a long history of working to link the “east” with the “west” so when the decision was made to hold the 22nd International AIDS conference (AIDS 2018) in Amsterdam, the city that is home to AFEW International, the secretariat of AFEW Network, it was clear that AFEW could have an important role in leveraging the conference to bring global attention to the crisis situation in Eastern Europe and Central Asia (EECA). Starting from 2016, with the support of the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MoFA), various strategies (fostering linking, learning and dialogue; developing creative solutions to unresolved challenges; influencing leaders, policymakers and donors; addressing stigma, discrimination and criminalization of people affected by HIV) were undertaken as to empower communities from the EECA to take part in AIDS 2018.

Leading up to and during AIDS 2018, AFEW International engaged in a range of activities to promote EECA at the conference and to promote the conference in EECA. An independent evaluator examined the impact of the implemented activities and factors that contributed to the successes and analyzed the challenges. In the report, you can read what were the key activities and lesson learned.

The short version of the report can be read here.

The full version of the report can be read here.

Videos from AIDS 2018 и IAS 2017 Now Available in Russian

Videos from AIDS 2018 and IAS 2017 Now Available in Russian. The IAS Educational Fund provides educational and inspiring sessions from IAS conferences (International AIDS Conferences and IAS Conferences on HIV Science) to clinicians and other healthcare providers and advocates. To make content accessible to more people, the IAS Educational Fund provides several sessions subtitled and transcribed in FrenchSpanishPortuguese and Russian.

You can find the sessions from AIDS 2018 Conference with the subtitles in Russian here.

Source: www.iasociety.org

Natalya Shumskaya: “Without a Professional Team We Would Not Have Succeeded”

Author: Grana Zia, AFEW-Kyrgyzstan

The executive director of AFEW-Kyrgyzstan Natalya Shumskaya is talking about the successes and challenges of the organisation in 2018 and the new demands for 2019.

– Natalia, what are the main achievements that AFEW-Kyrgyzstan can be proud of in 2018?

– I am really proud that the World Health Organisation (WHO) recognized the clinical guideline we developed for the management of pregnancy among women who use psychoactive substances as the best practice.

In the women’s colony, where we work in partnership with the Penal Medical Service and the Republican AIDS Centre, we managed to achieve the goal of 90-90-90: 90% of HIV-positive people are aware of their status, 90% of them take antiretroviral (ARV) therapy and reach supressed viral load. This is our common contribution to the fight against the HIV epidemic, and it is very encouraging to see such results.

I am also proud that we have managed to develop guidelines for the effective functioning of the coordination commissions on HIV infection and tuberculosis. Under this guideline, we trained over 100 representatives of regional public health commissions in all regions of Kyrgyzstan. We successfully lobbied for the participation of civil society organisations in these commissions.

Remembering 2018, I should also mention the delegation from Kyrgyzstan at the International AIDS Conference in Amsterdam AIDS 2018. We have been looking for funding for a long time, negotiating with various donors. Here is our result: 16 participants from Kyrgyzstan took part in more than 15 sessions; six delegates from Kyrgyzstan became conference speakers, and five delegates took part in poster presentations. At AIDS 2018, we even organized our own workshop for the countries of the Eastern European and Central Asian (EECA) region on community participation in decision making at all levels. I consider this a success, and, taking into the account the huge amount of work for this case, I call this a great achievement.

I am also proud that in 2018 we were able to agree with AFEW International and UN-Women in Kyrgyzstan on the opening of a rehabilitation centre and a social enterprise. It was a long process of negotiating, but we were able to take this step for the sake of healthy future for our country.

– What were your main challenges in 2018?

– I think that challenges are, first of all, opportunities. For example, in 2018 we planned the opening of a centre for teenagers for the prevention of usage of psychoactive substances. It was important for us that the state also contributed to the opening of this centre. We wanted to emphasize the importance of investing in youth development by the state. Children need our help. Unfortunately, negotiations with the mayor’s office were very long. It took us a very long time to receive a huge amount of necessary permits. We organized meetings, made concessions, but we were rejected. In early 2019, the opportunity arose to open such a centre in partnership with the State Agency for Youth, Physical Culture and Sports under the Government. They gave us a large and warm room in the heart of the city of Bishkek. Starting from March, our centre for teenagers begins its work.

– What are the main goals for AFEW-Kyrgyzstan in 2019?

– First of all, we plan to start our social entrepreneurship. We have already opened a training centre and beauty studio. We plan to train women in difficult life situations and to employ them later to work in the beauty studio. Now the important task is to think about marketing strategy and put everything on a self-sufficiency track. For us, this is a new experience. Now we will master fashionable beauty services, understand all the difficulties of accounting and business.

Another goal is to ensure stable development and financial support of our rehabilitation centre. It is being built now with the support of AFEW International. We want it to be a high-quality, multi-functional, modern and convenient for people who use drugs. We do not accept “semi-results”, and will definitely achieve all the goals.

Of course, 2019 will be for us a year of searching for new directions and programs, and strengthening advocacy activities, especially in the field of budget advocacy from the state. We want to strengthen relations with the donor community, non-governmental organisations and the state.

– Natalia, what do you think distinguishes AFEW-Kyrgyzstan from other non-governmental organisations in Kyrgyzstan?

– I think our strongest point is our employees. Due to the fact that our entire team is people with completely different education and experience, we can work in a very large range of services. Among us there are specialists in the field of HIV, tuberculosis, gender experts, researchers, business consultants. In 2017, for example, we began to develop the direction of helping women in difficult life situations. It was the first experience, but now this direction is very successful: 320 women from various key groups (single mothers, victims of gender-based violence, HIV-positive women) had training on the development of economic independence. Some of them started their business after that, someone has already come to our beauty studio as a master or coach. Without a professional team that is ready for new challenges, we would not have succeeded.

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.

Anke van Dam: “AFEW will Continue to be the Bridge Builder”

Author: Olesya Kravchuk, AFEW International


Anke van Dam on AIDS 2018 Conference

AFEW International executive director Anke van Dam sums up the results of 2018 and gives introduction of AFEW activities for the upcoming year of 2019.

Anke, how was the year of 2018 for AFEW International?

– It has been an amazing year for us! In the first half year our team prepared very carefully and intensely for the 22nd International AIDS Conference AIDS 2018 – the biggest event in AFEW’s lifetime. It is the biggest health conference in the world and this time it was a very important event for Eastern Europe and Central Asia (EECA). We got to successfully highlight AFEW and EECA region during the Conference. Next to this major event for us, we also had our project activities, like Bridging the Gaps project, Fast-Track TB/HIV Responses for Key Populations in EECA Cities project, Improved TB/HIV Prevention and Care – Building Models for the Future project, the project with Andrey Rylkov Foundation. We were involved in the City Health Conferences, and in the STI.HIV.Seks Dutch national congress. AFEW was also in New York to addressing the needs for diagnostics and treatment for tuberculosis in Eastern Europe and Central Asia at a side event during the United Nations General Assembly high-level meeting on tuberculosis in September and during the 49th Union World Conference on Lung Health in October in the Netherlands.

Taking into consideration that AIDS 2018 Conference was so important for the region where AFEW works, what were the outcomes of this event for EECA?


Anke van Dam on AIDS 2018 Conference

– Eastern Europe and Central Asia were really in the spotlight, with so many partner organisations and colleagues we shared our successes and challenges to stop new HIV cases in the region. You could hear Russian everywhere, in the Global Village, corridors, network meetings! Herewith some figures: compared with the International AIDS Conference 2016 that took place in South Africa, the EECA representation during AIDS 2018 Conference in Amsterdam increased from 3.9% to 10.5% at all activities included in the official programme. We had 16 speakers from the EECA region, which represented 5% of all speakers, and this is a big success. Thanks to the promotion of AIDS 2018 to the EECA region and thanks to AFEW’s community based participatory research project, the number of abstracts submitted from the region were triple to the number submitted for AIDS 2016. In total, there were 627 abstracts submitted. AFEW International organized mentors’ support to the partners, and that is why the quality of the abstracts improved substantially, which increased the chance of acceptance. Thus, 187 abstracts from the EECA region were accepted which marks a six-fold increase when compared to the previous conference. In total, 604 delegates from EECA visited the AIDS2018 – an almost five times increase in comparison to AIDS 2016 and AIDS 2014.

AFEW has invited some Conference participants with Martine de Schutter Scholarship Fund that was established not long before AIDS 2018. How many EECA participants got the scholarships to come to Amsterdam?

– It was very important for AFEW to ensure that many partners and colleagues were able to come to Amsterdam to get to learn about the state of the art in HIV prevention, treatment and care, and to get in touch with other (Western) activists, scientists and clinicians, AFEW used the AIDS 2018 as another opportunity to be the bridge between East and West. The amount of scholarships that International AIDS Society (IAS) awarded to the EECA region has increased dramatically both in comparison to the previous conference, and also to the AIDS 2010 in Vienna. In total IAS has granted 149 scholarships to delegates from the EECA region, and that was 13% of all IAS scholarships. Of this amount, 62 scholarships were funded by AFEW International. We have contributed 85,000 EUR to the IAS scholarship fund. On top of that, AFEW International has disbursed directly at least 57 more scholarships to Community-based participant research project (CBPR) participants, journalist, (young) researchers, activists, and governmental official delegates supported through AFEW offices. There was an increase in participation from the Central Asia in comparison to AIDS 2010, with total increase of 18 delegates from Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan. That was mainly thanks to increased scholarship support to these specific countries.


Anke van Dam on AIDS 2018 Conference

What are AFEW’s plans for the year of 2019?

– There are exciting developments for 2019. During AIDS 2018 Conference we have got the grant from Elton John AIDS Foundation (EJAF). Within this grant, with Aidsfonds in the lead, we have established the Emergency Support Fund for Key Populations in the EECA region. We are currently accepting the applications for emergency grants from 10 countries in Eastern Europe and Central Asia. With these small grants we are supporting organisations representing key populations in surviving in difficult situations which they face due to legal barriers, stigma and discrimination, financial challenges and political restrictions. Besides that, we are continuing the activities within Bridging the Gaps project, Fast-Track TB/HIV Responses for Key Populations in EECA Cities project, Improved TB/HIV Prevention and Care – Building Models for the Future project, and our activities in Russia. Recently, we have got the approval to start activities in the framework of the PITCH project, which will give us opportunities to continue working with the EECA cities, and to expand our activities in Russia further. Not long ago we have got 16,000 EUR of donation to Martine de Schutter Scholarship Fund from ViiV Healthcare UK Ltd. This financing will be used as an effective tool for the EECA scientists, clinicians, community professionals and activists for bringing challenges of EECA region on international agenda and learning from their peers through participation in the international conferences. AFEW will start with EECA INTERACT, a platform for (young) researchers in the EECA region to present their studies. AFEW will continue to be the bridge builder between communities and authorities, between communities and health care providers and between East and West for a better health in the EECA region.

Under 16 and Above: Protecting the Rights of Adolescents and Preventing HIV

Author: Yana Kazmirenko, Ukraine

Shortage of HIV prevention programmes for young people was one of the key topics discussed at the 22nd International AIDS Conference (AIDS 2018). At the conference, AFEW-Ukraine presented its best practices in HIV response among young people. Since 2012, it has been supporting the initiatives aimed at most-at-risk adolescents within the Bridging the Gaps: Health and Rights for Key Populations project funded by the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

Gaps analysis

Over the course of project implementation, social welfare centres for adolescents who use psychoactive substances were established in Kharkiv, Poltava, Kropyvnytskyi and Chernivtsi and a rehabilitation day care centre for such young people was opened in Chernivtsi. In 2017 only, over 12 hundred adolescents received 21,290 services in those four cities.

Olena Voskresenska, Director of AFEW-Ukraine, recalls that when the project just started, a gap analysis was conducted. It turned out that there were a lot of programmes for adults who use drugs, while few donors were supporting similar activities for adolescents. It was considered that this population does not make a considerable contribution to the HIV epidemic. Thus, both most-at-risk adolescents and generally schoolchildren and students of vocational training centres remained out of focus.

“Of all the countries involved in Bridging the Gaps project, Ukraine is unique in terms of the activities implemented for under-age drug users. We work with non-injecting drug users trying to prevent them from switching to injecting drugs,” says Olena.

Children do not use drugs

One of the main achievements of AFEW-Ukraine is developing a tool to monitor the violations of human rights of most-at-risk adolescents. Questionnaires are used to collect data on adolescents’ rights violations, providing urgent response and legal support. Iryna Nerubaieva, AFEW-Ukraine Project Manager, thinks that in the Ukrainian society there is a strong belief: children cannot use drugs and they do not use them.

“This community is invisible and unheard. Most often, adolescents do not know about their rights, do not know that they have any rights or how these rights are to be protected,” says Iryna.

Adolescents – mostly high schoolers and students of vocational training centres – are brought to the community centres by their friends. Often they are referred by social welfare institutions, departments of juvenile services and even police.

Currently, AFEW-Ukraine works in four cities of Ukraine: Kharkiv, Chernivtsi, Kropyvnytskyi and Poltava. Besides, thanks to the cooperation with Alliance for Public Health, since 2017 the activities for adolescents, including monitoring of human rights violations, have been conducted in five more cities of Ukraine.

Testing as a prevention tool

At the conference, Yevheniia Kuvshynova, Executive Director of Convictus Ukraine, implementing partner of AFEW-Ukraine and Alliance for Public Health, told about the Voice of Adolescents project, which covers 717 adolescents.

The Underage, Overlooked: Improving Access to Integrated HIV Services for Adolescents Most at Risk in Ukraine project is aimed at teenagers who use drugs and live in small towns and villages in seven regions of Ukraine. Adolescents from Kyiv attend the Street Power youth club. In this club, teenagers who use psychoactive substances and practice risky injecting and sexual behaviours can watch films, play computer games and receive social support.

According to Yevheniia, most of them use non-injecting drugs and HIV testing for them is rather a prevention tool. So far, no HIV cases have been detected. Adolescents are tested for hepatitis C and B as well as sexually transmitted infections.

For many years, Convictus has been working with adults who inject drugs providing services to 11 thousand people. Working with adolescents is different: they are tested only starting from 14 years of age, with a social worker and a doctor involved.

“One of our priorities is building a network and a map of services, so that adolescents could go to any organization of the network and receive services from our partners. If a person coming to us needs more in-depth support, we provide such support and also help him or her with clothes as we maintain a clothing bank,” tells Yevheniia.

Convictus is planning to develop a School of Leadership and a sexual health programme for girls, which are to close more gaps in the system of HIV prevention among most-at-risk adolescents in Ukraine.

HIV on AIDS 2018: Global Extent, Impact and the Way Forward

The issues of stigma, discrimination and human rights violations were broadly discussed during the AIDS 2018 conference which was held in Amsterdam, Netherlands in July 2018. The conference sessions explored the political, economic and sociological manifestations of HIV related stigma, discrimination and human rights violations on the global level articulated by the civil society.

Global Network of People living with HIV presented their report on HIV stigma and discrimination in the world of work which included findings from people living with HIV (PLHIV) stigma index. The report was written based on the information provided by 13 country teams who implemented the PLHIV Stigma Index.

Stigma index as a tool

Addressing stigma-affected people living with HIV is a global priority. Stigma, defined as “the co‐occurrence of labeling, stereotyping, separation, status loss, and discrimination in a context in which power is exercised,” has a negative impact on the health of PLHIV and contributes to the psychosocial stress, coercion and violence, job loss, and social exclusion. PLHIV, gay men and other men who have sex with other men (MSM), transgender individuals, sex workers, and people who use drugs (PWUD) – often referred to as key populations – are at the intersection of HIV‐related stigma and prejudice against their identities, occupations or behaviors that are often exacerbating their experiences of stigma and discrimination.

The PLHIV stigma index provides the evidence on stigma and discrimination that has been essential for informing HIV policy, PLHIV rights advocacy efforts, and stigma‐reduction interventions.  Stigma index is a research tool by which PLHIV capture data on their experiences of stigma and discrimination. As of November 2017, more than 100,000 PLHIV had been interviewed in over 50 languages by 2 000 trained PLHIV interviewers.

Stigma is complex

Stigma and discrimination remain a significant HIV risk factor for the key populations all over the world and mostly for people living with HIV as stigma directly and negatively affects health outcomes. At the International AIDS 2018 Conference, the participants reviewed new developments in the effort to combat stigma and discrimination, report results from researches and analyses of interventions and effective anti-stigma programs. The implications of the studies were discussed as they relate to the development of ongoing efforts to reduce HIV-related stigma and discrimination around the globe.

The construction of stigma is complex. Therefore, anti-stigma interventions must take this into account. Stefan Baral, M.D., Johns Hopkins University, presented a cross-country analysis of intersectional stigma among MSM, including perceived stigma, enacted stigma, and anticipated stigma related to family, community, and the health system.

As national AIDS programs and the international community grow efforts to implement plans for the universal access to HIV prevention, treatment, care and support, participants of the AIDS response should work together to overcome the main obstacles to achieving this goal.

MSM with depression have higher risk of stigma

Expressions of stigma in this analysis included a broad range of behaviors, such as family exclusion, rejection by friends, family gossip, verbal harassment, being afraid in public, being afraid to seek care, avoiding seeking care, poor treatment by health care workers, health care worker gossip, police not providing protection, blackmail, and even physical harm. Harassment and gossip were noted as important forms of enacted stigma that must be addressed, and intersecting identities were found to raise the risk of experiencing high stigma. MSM with depression, for example, had a higher risk of being stigmatized. These intersecting identities represent a critical target for all types of stigma reduction, particularly anticipated health care stigma.

In many countries and communities, HIV stigma and subsequent discrimination can lead to the same devastating effects as the disease itself: a break with a spouse and/or family, social ostracism, loss of work and property, exclusion from school, denial of medical services, lack of care, support, and violence. These consequences or the fear of them mean that people will not be very willing to be tested for HIV, disclose their HIV status to others, or seek treatment, care and support.

Chemsex and Drug Use Among MSM in Kyiv: New Challenges

Analytical community-based participatory research report based on the results of the study “Chemsex and drug use among MSM in Kyiv: new challenges”, 2017.

According to a bio-behavioral research conducted in Ukraine every two years with the support from the ICF “Alliance for Public Health”, men who have sex with men, is a group where the prevalence of HIV continues to grow. Thus, in Kyiv at the end of 2015 – the beginning of 2016, the prevalence of HIV among MSM was 15%.

According to the observations of social workers of the PO “ALLIANCE.GLOBAL”, that carries out outreach work through gay dating mobile applications, Internet web-sites, where sex workers’ ads are published, gay clubs and saunas in Kyiv, in recent years, the number of MSM who use different chemical substances in a non-injecting way (amphetamines, ecstasy, LSD, oxybutyrate, etc.) has significantly increased, which suggests that their sexual behavior becomes riskier and significantly increases the likelihood of HIV infection, viral hepatitis, and other STIs, both in terms of getting infection as well as transmitting the infection. To assess the drug scene, the risks of using chemical substances and the possible negative effects of sex under their influence in the context of the spread of HIV, viral hepatitis and other STIs, we conducted this study, the aim of which was to develop recommendations for more effective prevention of HIV infection, drug-related harm reduction and other related means and planning of specific services for subgroups of MSM who practice sex under the influence of chemical substances.

The purpose of the research is to study how the use of drugs, psychotropic substances and / or certain medications affects sexual behavior and mental health of MSM and how to minimize the risk of transmitting infections, in particular, HIV.

Read the report here.

AIDS 2018 Sidenotes: How We Tested Drugs

Experts of the centre testing a tablet

Author: Yana Kazmirenko, Ukraine

Saturday morning at the Schiphol airport. A conference participant from Ukraine – camera operator Igor K. – finds out that his tablets are gone. In a second, a confident man loses his heart: he becomes pale, his hands are shaking, and his eyes are full of dread. Igor has been taking methadone therapy for a few years, and for him losing his tablets can be life-changing. In Ukraine, it is not possible to receive methadone at the weekend.

Ukrainian drug users say that losing your tablets is the same as losing your passport. In both cases, you have to report to the police, where police officers issue a certificate to confirm the loss and only then a doctor would give you methadone. Igor is standing in the huge Amsterdam airport. He has three hours before his flight. It turns out that it is easier for a Ukrainian citizen to access methadone in Schiphol than back at home. After listening to Igor’s story, the doctor at the health station just prescribes him tablets for EUR 20.

Diseases are born in the streets

That was how the 22nd International AIDS Conference in Amsterdam (AIDS 2018) ended for me. After the event, it became clear that the capital city of the Netherlands had a full right to host this global forum. First of all, this right was earned because of its innovative HIV programmes, including progressive drug policies. It is not only about coffee shops where one can taste cupcakes with marijuana…

The first syringe exchange programmes, safe injection rooms and drug testing sites – those are all Dutch inventions, which were widely practised back in 1980s. This country was the first to realize that diseases are born in the streets and that nobody can tell better about the threat of HIV and ways to prevent it than drug users.

I could see it with my own eyes when I went with a study visit to the Jellinek drug testing centre with a group of journalists accredited at the conference. The building of the centre looks just the same as the neighbouring buildings. The centre has branches in Amsterdam, Utrecht, Almere, Amersfoort, Hilversum and other cities. In all of them, you can anonymously test your drugs for dangerous components.

Nightclub goers test their drugs

In 2017, over 12 thousand people tested their drugs (in 60% of cases ecstasy was tested). The centre has two tasks: monitoring of the market of club drugs and reducing the harms associated with their use.

A staff member of Jellinek says that visitors can access two types of tests: rapid test with a marker and laboratory testing, which takes a week. All kinds of things can be tested: tablets, powders, liquids, capsules or crystals. Every visitor may bring up to three samples to be tested. The price of one test in EUR 2.50.

E.g., an ecstasy tablet is first inspected, recording its colour, size, logo, acid test and comparing it to the national database with aggregated data of 30 drug testing centres from all over the country. If such tablet has already been tested (which happens in 75% of cases), the visitor is informed about its content straight away. If the tablet does not match any entry in the database, with the consent of its owner it is sent to a laboratory for further testing. The result is ready in a week. The only exception is LSD. Testing this drug is expensive, so Jellinek does partial testing not to go bankrupt.

Rapid test is the preferred option of the main drug users in the Netherlands – nightclub goers. After getting the testing results, they usually follow up with claims to the dealer who has sold them a dangerous product.

By the way, every year the Netherlands host more than a thousand musical festivals, with a mobile drug testing site operating at each of them. Such strict measures were introduced after 2014 when three visitors of a festival died after using low-quality drugs. However, using any drugs is a risk.

“People who started using drugs 5-10 years ago have to realize that now drugs may be more potent with a higher risk of overdose,” warn the experts working at the centre.

Ukraine needs changes

AIDS 2018 participant from Ukraine Anton Basenko, who is the head of the Ukrainian Union of People Who Use Drugs (PUD.Ukraine) says that establishing drug testing centres and safe injection rooms is the reason why there are no more streets covered with used syringes in Amsterdam.

In Ukraine, there are also talks about opening such drug testing centres and safe injection rooms. However, they will not appear unless the legislation changes. So far, such facilities are outlawed and people who open them may be incarcerated for running drug dens.

AFEW on AIDS 2018: Cases and Efforts to Spotlight Eastern Europe and Central Asia

Author: Olesya Kravchuk, AFEW International

AFEW International and AFEW Network have organised and supported numerous activities within 22nd International AIDS Conference AIDS 2018. AFEW joined many initiatives by other organisations and networks and presented successful cases of work in Eastern Europe and Central Asia (EECA). Find some highlights below.

Together with EECA regional networks and committed advocates, AFEW has put great effort into making sure that the AIDS crisis and related public health concerns in EECA were featured in the conference program. Each plenary session of the AIDS 2018 had a speaker from the region and lots of sessions addressed the challenges in stopping new HIV and TB cases in the EECA countries. AFEW also supported Russian-speaking delegates to the Conference and helped with translation to and from Russian during AIDS 2018. More than 35 sessions were translated into Russian. A team of 25 dedicated Russian and English-speaking volunteers was recruited, trained and coordinated by AFEW International. These volunteers have provided language support during the conference and at the events organised by AFEW.

AFEW has also contributed with financial and technical support to the EECA networking zone ActivEast which was one of the busiest zones in the Global Village with more than 50 sessions during the conference led by community leaders.

Besides, AFEW International helped Amsterdam Youth Force by providing it with fiscal and administrative support, technical assistance and financial means to bring young volunteers to the conference. 35 young people from different countries of EECA have travelled to Amsterdam by bus from Kyiv and have worked at youth-focused events of the Global Village.

A migrant from Tajikistan came to talk

AFEW’s Leadership workshop ‘Migration in Eastern Europe and Central Asia: Access to healthcare for all?’ presented information about migrants in EECA, and labor migrants from Tajikistan in particular. Findings from a needs assessment survey of labour migrants among people who use drugs in Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan were presented.

A labor migrant from Tajikistan Zebo Alimahmadova came to Amsterdam to tell about her migration experience to Russia. Working in Saint-Petersburg, Zebo got to know that she was HIV-positive. Even though it was difficult for her, she found strength to go back to her home country with her children and get the proper treatment. Now she has a job and feels support from her three kids and AFEW-Tajikistan.

Coping with shrinking space

Shrinking space of civil society in the EECA region was also an important topic during many events of the Conference. AFEW’s director of programme Janine Wildschut led an active discussion on the strategies for coping with shrinking space for the civil society and shared AFEW’s techniques in the EECA networking zone in the Global Village.

“In EECA, we have observed a diminishing space for civil society organisations, perhaps best exampled by the ‘Foreign Agent Law’ in the Russian Federation. The shrinking civil society space threatens the effectiveness of the response to HIV and other public health issues, particularly as it pertains to the health and rights of key populations,” says Janine Wildschut.

The report on the coping strategies amongst resilient harm reduction organisations and community networks in the context of shrinking space for civil society in Eastern Europe and Central Asia can be read and downloaded here.

Martine de Schutter Fund donors meeting

Martine de Schutter Scholarship Fund event was organised during the AIDS 2018 to bring together the donors of the Fund and the scholars and give them an opportunity to meet the family of Martine. The Fund established by AFEW raised 130.000 EUR to cover the additional scholarships of the EECA applicants to come to Amsterdam for the AIDS Conference. It was an emotional gathering, with gratitude expresses by the scholars for an opportunity to come to the conference – for many for the first time in their lives. AFEW’s executive director Anke van Dam said that AFEW has an intention to continue fundraising for the Fund to further support EECA delegates for international scientific meetings and conferences.

Martine de Schutter was a strong Dutch advocate for human rights and had a passion to Eastern Europe and Central Asia. Her last trip was to AIDS 2014 Conference in Melbourne on the MH17 plane that was shot down and crashed.

EECA ministers showed their political will

Within AIDS 2018, AFEW took part in Ministers and civil society dialogue meeting, organized by the World Health Organization Regional Office for Europe and UNAIDS, in cooperation with the Government of the Netherlands. Ministers of health and senior policy-makers from 10 countries in EECA were introduced to the civil society organisations’ representatives during the meeting. The participants exchanged their experiences and the results of their national AIDS responses with a view to adapting them and scaling them up across the region. They discussed the Fast-Track priorities for achieving the 90–90–90 targets. EECA government representatives reaffirmed their political commitment to scale up national HIV responses during a ministerial policy dialogue on HIV, which was held on the eve of the International AIDS Conference in Amsterdam, Netherlands.

Hermitage dinner as the climax of Culture Initiative events

AFEW established International Cultural Initiative – a platform to complement AFEW’s consolidated track record in advocacy, education and outreach campaigns on matters of public health in the EECA region. The artistic work put forward by our six artists-in-residence, who came from EECA countries, was showcased at a variety of cultural institutions of the city of Amsterdam between May and July 2018. During the AIDS Conference, art-pieces were accessible to the general public in the Global Village.

The special Dialogue Dinner was the climax of AFEW’s cultural activities, taking place in the Hermitage Amsterdam Museum. We hosted an evening with dialogues about the EECA region, while savouring food and art from the region. 60 invitees representing policy makers, researchers, NGOs, foundations and international development specialists focusing on public health in the EECA region attended the dinner.

Chasing the virus together

AFEW Network members were actively participating in the EECA Campaign “Chase the virus not people!” that was launched at AIDS 2018 by the region’s community networks. EECA regional networks joined forces in response to the current situation to urge the world to overcome discrimination and the stigmatisation of key populations. AFEW International joined the campaign and was also one of its organisers.

“It was very important for us to join this campaign because this is the first campaign in which all regional networks united their efforts to draw attention to the problems of key population groups. AFEW is also against the backdrop of the catastrophic situation with the HIV/AIDS epidemic in EECA,” says Daria Alexeeva, EECA at AIDS2018 project manager at AFEW International. “Being actively present in six countries of the region, we realize how important it is to unite our efforts with other networks to achieve the common goal.”