The Train is off but HIV Stays

Author: Anastasia Petrova, Russia

Testing in Kurgan

From 8 July to 20 October 2017, a train carriage went throughout the territory of Russia offering HIV testing services to everyone interested. The campaign was aimed at raising the awareness and increasing the coverage with testing services among the general public.

The strategic train

The train offering HIV testing is a project of the Russian Ministry of Health in cooperation with the Russian Railways. The campaign was initiated within the State Strategy to Combat the Spread of HIV in Russia through 2020. Long-distance passenger trains were equipped with an additional carriage offering free and confidential testing. Project workers conducted pre- and post-test counseling and informed people about HIV and the ways of its transmission. The route lied from Vladivostok to St. Petersburg and included the regions most affected with HIV. Apart from offering HIV testing on the way, mobile laboratories were also functioning on the railway stations. The campaign was aimed at the first component of the global 90/90/90 strategy, which stipulates that 90% of people living with HIV should be aware of their status.

The silent epidemic

The carriage where the testing was conducted

The testing campaign covered 24 regions, with the following cities leading in terms of people tested: Chelyabinsk (2,039 people), Nizhnevartovsk (1,645 people), Irkutsk (1,446 people), Kurgan (1,290 people), and Samara (1,227 people). Moscow was the city with the lowest coverage – only 290 people got tested there. According to the Ministry of Health, within the campaign 25 thousand people were able to get tested and receive professional counseling in the carriage and in railway stations.

“The fact that those 24 regions were covered is important. Here in Russia, 10 out of 85 regions have 50% of new HIV cases, and as for the 24 regions covered, they have over 70% of such cases. That is why I think that this campaign has a concrete result as it is focused on the most affected regions,” the chief independent expert in HIV diagnostics and treatment at the Russian Ministry of Health, Yevgeny Voronin is saying.

Awareness-raising materials in the format of railway tickets

It is interesting that no official statistics was announced on the total number of HIV cases detected. However, according to the Minister of Health, Veronika Skvortsova, as of the date when the train was passing Moscow the number of HIV positive cases detected was 248. Thus, the total number of such cases is more than 250 or 1% of the people tested. Considering the fact that testing was conducted in the general population, this number shows the severe epidemiological situation in the country and proves the tendency of HIV epidemic going beyond the key populations.

The train is off

Such campaign is an unprecedented intervention aimed at raising the awareness of people in the area of HIV/AIDS. Apart from testing passengers, the campaign was an important newsmaker. Reports in federal and regional mass media allowed millions of people in Russia to learn about the importance of this problem and about the necessity of regular testing. A positive outcome is that after the train left mobile sites to continue testing remained at some railway stations.

Closing ceremony in St. Petersburg

Alongside with that, if the data about one percent of the HIV cases detected in the general population is confirmed, it will mean that the situation has got out of control. In this case, the measures taken by the Ministry of Health are to be scaled up a hundred times and are to be aimed not only at awareness raising and detection of new cases but also at treatment. Testing as it is is not a measure of response to the epidemic. Every patient should receive therapy in order to achieve minimal viral load not to transmit the virus to other people. However, in Russia less than a half of people living with HIV get the necessary medications.

 

HIV/AIDS Surveillance in Europe 2017-2016 Data Released

On 1st of December, we mark World AIDS Day (WAD) to raise awareness about HIV and its impact on individuals and societies around the globe. WAD 2017 in the WHO European Region will focus on the problem of late HIV diagnosis – the high number of people who are diagnosed with HIV at a late stage of infection with consequences for individuals’ health and survival, and for the community where HIV can transmit further.

With this message, we invite you to join us and mark the World Aids Day 2017 in your country.

On 28 November 2017, WHO/Europe and ECDC jointly released the annual report on HIV/AIDS surveillance Europe, containing the latest available surveillance data.

Similar to recent years, the highest proportion of HIV diagnoses (40%) was reported to be in men who have sex with men (MSM). However, for the first time in a number of years, several countries reported a decline in new HIV diagnoses, even after adjusting for reporting delay.

While the data in this year’s report indicate alarming rates and increases in new diagnoses in some parts of eastern and central Europe over the last decade, at the same time there has been a tendency towards stabilising or even decreasing rates in some EU/EEA countries.

Trends by transmission mode, for example, show that the number of HIV diagnoses among MSM in the EU/EEA decreased slightly in 2016 and the number of heterosexually acquired cases has decreased steadily over the last decade.

Moreover, in the EU/EEA, the number of AIDS cases, and the number of AIDS-related deaths, has consistently declined since the mid-1990s.

The report on HIV/AIDS surveillance in Europe 2017 – 2016 data is available here.

The First AFEW Regional Autumn School Was Conducted in Kazakhstan

Author: Marina Maximova, Kazakhstan

Representatives of 10 countries took part in the first regional autumn school organized by AFEW, which was held from 30 October to 5 November in the Oy-Karagay gorge, not far from Almaty, Kazakhstan. The school was conducted with the support of the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

High mountains, hot sun, picturesque autumn landscapes, atmosphere of the national yurt instead of the traditional training hall – combined with the team spirit and expectations of positive changes – contributed to the creative atmosphere of the event. The school participants included representatives of the AFEW network from Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, the Netherlands, Tajikistan, Ukraine, sub-grantees of the project ‘Bridging the Gaps: Health and Rights for Key Populations,’ and partner organizations. Such allies and friends are the biggest guarantee of success.

Learning to bridge the gaps

“The autumn school helps to find the answers to a range of questions and get acquainted with the new innovative practices in working with key populations,” says Dilshod Pulatov, Project Manager, ‘Bridging the Gaps’ programme, AFEW-Tajikistan.

He presented the results of the social study to assess the level of labour migration among people who use drugs. It was conducted for 18 months in Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan. The study, which covered 600 respondents, demonstrated regional trends and showed interesting results. The main of them is that the labour migrants who use drugs do not know where they can get help and who can offer such help. In both countries, the respondents pointed out that as labour migrants they experienced problems with access to health and social services.

The results of this research study will help AFEW to scale up the access of drug users to quality HIV prevention, treatment, care, and support services and find new partners. Partnerships were created right at the discussion platform. This study proved to be interesting not only to the participants, but also to the guests invited to take part in the autumn school, including representatives of the Project HOPE in Kazakhstan.

Platform for discussion and activism

Today, ‘Bridging the Gaps’ programme is implemented by the organizations from four countries of the region. The autumn school became a platform to discuss strategies, barriers, innovations, and opportunities for cooperation.

“In our country, the biggest gap is an access of underage people who use drugs (PUD) to services. Many services are offered to adult PUD, in particular with support of the international donors. It allows them getting qualified help. At the same time, people often forget that the first experience of drug use happens under the age of 18,” tells Anastasia Shebardina, Project Manager, AFEW-Ukraine.

The project made an important contribution for radically changing the situation: it opened the only rehab centre for drug dependent adolescents in Chernivtsi and supported four civil society organizations.

In each country, there are success stories, which became possible thanks to the project implementation. So far, these are just tiny steps forward in the big scope of the existing problems. Every such step became possible thanks to project staff and activists working hard for a long time, but such victories, even if they are small, enhance personal motivation of people and allow them to set bigger goals.

“One of our achievements is developing the standards of services for PUD serving sentences in the Georgian prisons. We educate prison staff and have drafted a special training module for this purpose. In some organizations, support groups for PUD are already functioning. Rehab centre Help has opened its doors to clients. Now 12 people can stay there and get qualified help. We plan to cover all correctional facilities in the country with our activities,” shares his plans Vazha Kasrelishvili, Project Coordinator of the NGO Tanadgoma.

From knowledge sharing to new rehabilitation models

Sharing knowledge and best practices is one of the goals of the autumn school. Together, it is easier to elaborate strategies and innovative approaches, considering that the tendencies in development of the situation in the region are similar. Today, the search to fund vital projects also requires joint efforts, taking into account the reduction of the funding received from the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria and other donors in the region. So far, national governments are not ready to take over this financial burden in full scope. Despite their broad fundraising efforts, civil society organizations do not have enough grant funds aimed at scaling up access to services for key populations.

“With the support of the Ministry of Health of the Kyrgyz Republic, within our project we developed two clinical guidelines: on managing pregnancy, delivery and postnatal period of female PUD and on mental health and behaviour disorders in children and adolescents caused by the use of new psychoactive substances. We were able to open a social office for women with HIV, which offers counselling of psychologists and peer consultants. In the country, there are two rehab centres for women with HIV and drug dependence, which cooperate with friendly clinics,” tells Natalya Shumskaya, the head of the AIDS Foundation East-West in the Kyrgyz Republic.

Today, there is a need to use new, more effective rehabilitation models. This idea has been supported by all participants of the autumn school. Such models should be aimed at developing inner strength – empowerment – of each of the members of key populations.

“Maybe now it is time to change and expand our understanding of the rehabilitation concept. It is not only detox and psychology. There should be equal opportunities, in particular based on harm reduction, to accept yourself,” points out Anna Sarang, President of Andrey Rylkov Foundation, Russia.

Preparations to AIDS 2018

Participants of the autumn school also discussed preparations to the 22nd International AIDS Conference (AIDS 2018) in Amsterdam, the Netherlands – the main event of the next year for activists of the AIDS organizations. All countries of the Eastern Europe and Central Asia are already actively preparing for the conference. How can decision makers be involved into this crucial event? What channels are most effective in communicating information about the conference? How to make this event significant? Every day, participants of the autumn school discussed these and other questions. Besides, they learned how to write abstracts for the conference and choose catchy titles for them.

It is very important that the participants developed some new ideas, concepts and thoughts, because starting from 1 December 2017 registration for AIDS 2018 will be open. It will be a new and diverse platform for discussions making decisions significant for all countries and communities.

AIDS 2018: Preparing for Registration and Submitting Abstracts

Author: Anna Tokar, Ukraine

The registration for the 22nd International AIDS Conference (AIDS 2018) will symbolically start on December 1 – the World AIDS Day. The conference will gather scientists, political leaders, and people living with HIV from all around the world. One of the key objectives of AIDS 2018 is to spotlight the state of the epidemic and the HIV response in Eastern Europe and Central Asia with a focus on investments, structural determinants and services.

You can already start preparing for the registration for the Conference. Below you can find some important tips:

  • You will be asked to create your personal account – a webpage at the conference website – where you will need to put your key personal information (name, date of birth, education, etc.) Through this account you will submit your thesis or register for the Conference.
  • Registration can be individual or group (only applicable to the registration of five people or more.) The company or organization requesting a group registration must nominate one group representative who will administer the group communication with the Conference committee.
  • Usually, when applying for a scholarship, one should submit a cover letter with clear reasoning of why this scholarship is needed. Your personal details and passport data will be requested.

Scientific tracks

AIDS 2018 Conference will welcome submission of abstracts for original contribution to the field in the following scientific tracks:

Track A: Basic and Translational Research.

Track B: Clinical Research.

Track C: Epidemiology and Prevention Research.

Track D: Social and Political Research, Law, Policy and Human Rights.

Track E: Implementation Research, Economics, Systems and Synergies with other Health and Development Sectors.

Tips for writing a strong abstract

Even though there are no abstract guidelines yet available, you may consider developing a draft anyhow.

Language and grammar

The official language of the conference is English. Thus, all abstracts should be developed and presented only in the English language. The abstracts that are written well have higher chances to be selected by the Conference committee, regardless of their content. Grammar mistakes and typos will distract the reviewers from the actual study content. The reviewers might also wonder if the author is able to communicate study findings in the English language at all. For a non-native speaker, it might be quite difficult to spot all the mistakes or weird phrases. That is why we highly recommend asking for some assistance, for example from your English-speaking colleagues or friends. We also suggest to use the examples of previous conference abstracts and peer reviewed scientific papers. Studying them will help you to understand how to be succinct and informative at the same time. Besides, you might be able to see some useful linguistic construction and techniques.

Brevity is the soul of wit

The abstract should be short, yet informative. That is why you would need to have sufficient time to “pack” all the information into 300 words. If you plan to write an abstract in the last moment, you would not have time to think it through, and thus, most probably you would start “cutting.” As a result, you can end up with the text full of abbreviations, with one line of introduction and super reduced methods section, which will look like a broken puzzle.  Good abstract should be well-balanced, and all its sections should be connected and should smoothly tell the story to your reader. The reviewers would not appreciate any quizzes in your abstract, they would not guess what you mean or what you intend to say. Therefore, the text should be easy to follow, it should be reader-friendly and logically built. In other case, the reviewers might decide that the information provided in the abstract is not enough and simply reject your abstract.

Results will come later

The common problem of many people is to write the abstract without having data or analysis done. It is better not to write an abstract at all, if there are no results available. You also might consider using some previous data. Just try to have some new research questions in your abstract, or try to use a new analytical approach.

Prioritizing the key message

The abstract should be written in such a way, that a key message can be easily grasped. This key idea should be stated in the introduction as the study goal. It should also be presented in the methods, proved by the results, and finally, it should “crystalize” in the conclusion. Think it over for this type of task requires slow thinking and digesting.

Abbreviations and professional terms

Even though the reviewers should be familiar with commonly used abbreviations and professional terms, it is seen as a bad manner to use these concepts without full spelling or clear description. Therefore, when using abbreviation and professional terms, try to follow the norms of scientific writing. Firstly, all abbreviation should be spelled out, when used for the first time in the text. Secondly, the professional language should be avoided or used upon clear definition. Besides, no discriminating or stigmatizing language is acceptable.

Conclusion

If in the Post-Soviet countries, the phrases like “we recommend conducting an additional study” or “more research is needed” are well-accepted, in the Western world such phrases can be perceived as a bad tone, since there is no such field of science where no additional research is needed. Yet, using the precious words for providing these kind of statements is a waste, especially when talking about the conference abstracts. In the conclusion of the abstract, the reviewer is waiting for your final word, the answer to your research question, not for an empty phrase. Another typical mistake is to make ambitious loud claims which are not supported by the results, for instance, that the sample size was not representative, but the conclusions are made based on the whole country population. The best advice is to support the conclusions by data, not by the ambitions of the author. One should also remember that conclusion is like saying goodbye to your readers. Therefore, you should think about leaving them with the feeling of the firm handshake and with a polite smile on your face. This is what you reader will remember.

TB and HIV – a Plague of Tajikistan Prisons

Prisoners in the yard at a colony in Dushanbe. Photo from the archives. Author – Nozim Kalandarov

Author: Nargis Hamrabaeva, Tajikistan

Around 12,000 million people are held in correctional institutions and pre-trial detention centers in Tajikistan. Approximately 100 of them have tuberculosis, and 220 live with HIV.

“HIV prevalence in prisons in Eastern Europe and Central Asia (EECA) is estimated to be between 2 and 50 times higher than that in the general population. In EECA, Tajikistan has the highest rate of HIV infection among prisoners – 7%, which is about one-fifth of all people infected with HIV in the country. Additionally, according to the estimates, the risk of contracting TB in prison is 60-100 times higher than outside prison walls. Within the prison population, there is an increased rate of tuberculosis-related mortality compared to that in the general population,” states an overview of HIV and TB in Tajikistan prisons as described by AFEW International in 2015. Now, two years later, let us see how this situation has changed.

100 TB patients

“Over the last eight months, 59 new cases of TB in penal institutions were diagnosed. All these patients are registered and receive treatment. In total, there are 100 prisoners infected with TB in Tajikistan, which is less than 1% of the prison population. Compared to the previous years, the situation has improved significantly: TB detection increased, the laboratories are being modernized, there is new equipment and adequate provision of medications,” the Head of the Medical Department of the Main Directorate of the Penal System of the Tajikistan Ministry of Justice Saidkul Sharipov is saying.

According to Mr Sharipov, a real lifesaver for them was the mobile fluorography unit that could be taken from region to region, allowing for step-by-step screening of inmates.

“Such testing is conducted every six months. For example, recently we have examined about three thousand inmates for mycobacterium tuberculosis in all cities and regions, except Dushanbe. We identified 40 suspected cases of TB that will be followed through during the secondary examination,” Mr Sharipov adds.

In total, some 500 prisoners are kept under regular medical supervision, including those who had already received treatment and have fully recovered.

The Deputy Director for Infectious Control of the Republican Center on Social Protection from TB Saydullo Saidaliev also confirms that the situation with tuberculosis is under control and TB prevalence in Tajikistan has decreased.

“In 2005, more than 300 inmates had TB, this year – only 100. The rate of new infections has also been declining: 77 cases in 2016, 59 over the last eight months. Last year, seven prisoners died from mycobacterium tuberculosis, this year we had zero deaths from TB,” Mr Saidaliev says.

Almost all correctional institutions have special TB hospitals for 5–10 beds, as in prison settings one TB carrier could infect tens of people within a year.

HIV “enters’” prisons from outside

Mycobacterium tuberculosis and HIV are often spread in closed institutions.

Prisoners at a colony in Dushanbe. Photo from the archives. Author – Nozim Kalandarov

“Although we have not analyzed this thoroughly, one could assume that most cases of HIV infection among inmates take place within correctional institutions. Quite some detainees are imprisoned because of drug related crimes, like drug possession. People who inject drugs have a higher risk of living with HIV. Most of them serve a short term, but have the risk to be detained shortly after their release again for another short term. With the window period of detecting HIV, it is difficult to say if and when prisoners have got HIV while detained,”  the Deputy Director of the Republican AIDS Center Dilshod Saiburhanov is saying.

Inmates often learn about their HIV status in prisons, where HIV testing is offered twice a year. Currently we have 220 registered people with HIV, two of them are female, one under age, and 150 receive antiretroviral treatment.

Since 2010, the number of HIV cases among inmates has decreased: 292 were identified in 2010, while over the last nine months only 31 cases were registered – a nine-fold decrease. Screening procedures are improving every year, and 65–70% of prisoners get tested for HIV,” Mr Saiburhanov adds.

Currently, three correctional colonies in Tajikistan have the so-called “friendly offices” that distribute prevention materials – syringes, condoms and information leaflets.

HIV+TB: a particular risk

Experts note that they are especially concerned about HIV and TB co-infection, as people with HIV have a higher risk of getting TB as well.

“That is why there are cases of co-infection in Tajikistan prisons: about 25% of the total number of TB patients,” the Head of the Medical Department of the Main Directorate of the Penal System Saidkul Sharipov says.

Mr Sharipov adds that AFEW-Tajikistan is one of the few international organizations that work in Tajikistan prisons to reduce the burden of infectious diseases, such as HIV and tuberculosis.

“We have been collaborating with AFEW since 2003 to conduct HIV and TB response projects in prisons, as well as information campaigns among inmates to prevent these diseases,” Mr Sharipov says.

One of the main problems is not even the lack of costly treatment and nutrition, because international organizations help with these. It is the lack of healthcare personnel in the penal system.

Drug Treatment Systems in Prisons in Eastern Europe Discussed by AFEW Board Member

Council of Europe Co-operation Group to Combat Drug Abuse and Illicit Trafficking in Drugs published a new publication “Drug Treatment Systems in Prisons in Eastern and Southeastern Europe”. The publication sheds light into the situation of drug users among criminal justice populations and corresponding health care responses in ten countries in Eastern and Southeastern Europe: Albania, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Georgia, Kosovo, Macedonia, Moldova, Montenegro, Russia, Serbia, and Ukraine. AFEW‘s board member Vladimir Mendelevich is one of the contributors of the publication. 

The research project on drug-treatment systems in prisons in Eastern and South-East Europe looks in detail into the situation of drug users among criminal justice populations and the corresponding health-care responses in nine countries in Eastern and South-East Europe – Albania, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Georgia, Moldova, Montenegro, Russia, Serbia, “the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia” and Ukraine – and Kosovo. It was conducted between 2013 and 2016, and is a first attempt to collect relevant data on drug use among prison populations and the related responses in the nine countries and Kosovo.

Although the places chosen are quite heterogeneous in size, structure, legislation, economy, culture and language, they are all in a process of economic, social and cultural transition. This has triggered reforms of some of their prison systems and policies but it has also led to financial and political instability and lack of leadership due to frequent changes in the prison systems’ top management.

The full publication can be downloaded here.

AFEW Chairman Becomes HCV Change Maker

Board Chair of AFEW International Jeffrey V. Lazarus has recently become one of the 2017 HCV Change Makers from the Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU). The Change Makers programme recognises 18 Hepatitis C Virus (HCV) innovators doing exemplary work in the programme’s three thematic areas: multi-stakeholder approaches; screening; and technology. Their ground-breaking efforts can inspire and guide their peers on the path to HCV elimination. The programme also aims to spark debate and action on HCV policy and access to care.

AFEW‘s Board Chair is awarded for his work in technology. Being the associate researcher at the Barcelona Institute for Global Health, Hospital Clínic, and affiliated professor at the Centre of Excellence for Health, Immunity and Infections, Rigshospitalet, University of Copenhagen, Jeffrey Lazarus leads a large-scale digital survey of Hepatitis C patients in Europe. Together with leading stakeholders, Prof Lazarus and his colleagues now plan to repeat the survey on a regular basis, ensuring alignment with the objectives of the WHO Global Health Sector Strategy on Viral Hepatitis.

“The EIU changemaker award is a great recognition of the importance of involving patients in the hepatitis prevention, treatment and care that they need and deserve. My colleagues and I will continue to look for ways to further this agenda,” Jeffrey Lazarus is saying.

Hep-CORE’s 39 questions ask about national coordination, disease monitoring, prevention, testing and treatment. Among them: In your country, are there any HCV testing/screening sites outside of hospitals for the general population? In your country, is there a clear linkage-to-care mechanism so that people who are diagnosed with Hepatitis B and C are referred directly to a physician who can manage their care? Prof Lazarus and his team used Research Electronic Data Capture, an open-access web-based online data collection tool, to design the survey.

Sex Work in Ukraine: Cancelling the Fines and Placing Condomats at Bus Stops Could Halt HIV Spread

Nataliya Isaeva is protesting and advocates for the fast decriminalization of sex work

Author: Yana Kazmirenko, Ukraine

Civil society NGO activists in Ukraine are developing a new legislation on sex work. According to them, eliminating the fines could help increasing access to medical care for women and men involved in sex work – a profession vulnerable to HIV.

“Sex workers try not to have too many condoms with them. If there is a police raid, discovering condoms and recording it in a protocol automatically means detention for sex work,” says Nataliya Isaeva, the head of the All-Ukrainian Charity Organisation “Legalife-Ukraine”, explaining the need to finally decriminalize sex work. Nataliya has been a sex worker since she was 16. Today, after being a sex worker for 15 years, she has HIV-positive status, a family, two healthy children and projects that offer support to her ex-colleagues.

Hostages and victims of violence

Even administrative charges for sex work that are still in force in Ukraine, make sex workers vulnerable to police violence. According to the Article 181-1, of the Ukraine’s Administrative Code, commercial sex is an administrative offence punishable by the fine of 15 tax-exempt minimum wages (UAH 225 or €7.5) as a maximum penalty.

“Today decriminalization is more important than legalization. Decriminalization would create an environment where sex workers could go to police to complain of violent actions against them,” Nataliya clarifies.

Preparing for the 22nd International AIDS Conference to be held in Amsterdam in 2018, “Legalife” activists have conducted a research on the types of violence against sex workers in Ukraine. They surveyed 175 women and anticipate high levels of “truthful answers”, given that the women were interviewed by activists who had been involved in sex work.

“Preliminary results show high rates of psychological violence against sex workers from police. Many have to deal with unwarranted aggression from their clients: people in passing cars throw bottles at them, and there was one case when they cut a rude word on a woman’s breast,” Nataliya is sharing.

Healthy women work longer

The Ministry of Ukraine’s Center for Public Health estimates the number of sex workers in the country at around 80,000. Some 7.3% of them have been diagnosed with HIV. Administrative liability drives sex workers underground and makes them conceal their occupation, even from doctors.

“Sex workers are usually not the ones to go and have their first HIV test on their own initiative. Decriminalization forms the prerequisite for medical screening and offering help to those in need,” Sergey Kharitonov, the head of HIV prevention and access to treatment projects for sex workers, NGO Convictus Ukraine is saying. Nataliya Isaeva, however, thinks that sex workers do try to take care of their health and contribute much less to the spread of HIV as opposed to what researchers believe.

“Women professionally involved in sex work prefer to use condoms, get tested and make sure they are in good health. The healthier they are, the longer they can work,” Nataliya explains.

Discovering status means banning from pick-up points

Experts from Convictus Ukraine have surveyed sex workers to find out what they do when they learn that they have HIV. Most of them leave work for a while, usually going back home. The story of Polina (34) from Kyiv confirms this. After she discovered her HIV-positive status in 2014, she went home to her parents for the first time in many years. Polina started using injecting drugs when she was 16. After the 9th grade, she travelled to Moscow, hoping to earn good money, and ended up in sex work through the advice from her friend. Amphetamine, heroin, dope – she could just almost write a manual on drugs. In early 2000s, she found out she had Hepatitis C, but she cannot remember when exactly she was diagnosed. After discovering her status, she applied for the opiate substitution therapy.

After learning about her HIV status, Polina switched to opioid substitution therapy

“My body gets ugly from all the injections, but my look is my income. Thus, with a doctor’s paper certifying substance use, I applied for a paid substitution therapy service. It costs UAH 1600 per month. I saved up some money, and I also want to get Hepatitis C therapy,” Polina is saying.

After she was diagnosed with HIV, Polina started to take more care about her health. “I always use a condom, do not go to saunas for groups, etc.,” she says.

According to Polina, only her mother, partner and son know about her status. Her son lives with his grandparents in Russia. Polina hopes that opiate substitution therapy will “wise her up”, help her quit drugs and find her six-year-old daughter whom she abandoned after birth.

Polina’s colleagues find it hard to establish an alternative source of income, and that is why they go back to where they were. Many of them are afraid of undergoing further testing, fearing disapproval from doctors and friends in case “God forbid, someone finds out”.

“Most sex workers suffer from self-stigma which prevents them from accepting their HIV status. If they find out one of them is HIV-positive, the colleagues try to remove this person from the pick-up point by any means,” Sergey Kharitonov says.

New law under development

Activists admit that there is little chance for changing the status of sex work in Ukraine. Back in 2015, decriminalization attempts failed. Andrey Nemirovskiy, the Deputy of the Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine (Samopomich party), submitted and, following a lot of buzz in the media, revoked the legislation regulating sex work in Ukraine. The project failed, not least because of the influence of the Orthodox church, whose vast congregation could have cut off electorate support for the party.

New legislation is developed, but, according to Nataliya Isayeva, it will only be submitted after allies are found. Currently activists are conducting advocacy work among female deputies and developing amendments to other laws.

The project manager at NGO Convictus Ukraine Yulia Tsarevskaya believes that apart from the new law, it is possible to reduce the spread of HIV among sex workers with comprehensive programming. For example, the service of condom and lubricant distribution could be replaced by placing condomats in all cities (at the bus stops and metro stations.)

New Technologies and Youth Sexuality Education in Georgia

Author: Gvantsa Khizanishvili, Georgia

Improving access to and awareness of health issues among youth using new technologies has become a new way for non-profit sectors around the world to advance issues on their agenda. IntiMate by Bemoni is the first application of such type in Georgia, and it is an excellent example of sexuality education using innovative technologies. It is available for download both by App store and Google play. The app has been developed by Public Union Bemoni as a part of the project “Investing in Sexual and Reproductive Health Promotion and HIV Prevention among Young People in Georgia”.

Non-profit for sex education

Georgia has inadequate policies in the area of sexual and reproductive health and rights. There are strong religious and conservative powers and gender inequality in addition to a fragile civil society that especially influences the lives of adolescents and young people. Much progress has been made in recent years in advocacy to advance youth sexual and reproductive health and rights, for example. In May of 2017, the Georgian Ministry of Education and Science signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the United Nations (UN) Joint Programme for Gender Equality to assist the ongoing revision of the national curriculum and help integrate the issues of human rights, gender equality and healthy living into the educational programme. Additionally, this February, United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) Georgia initiated an interactive learning module for evidence-based family planning called Virtual Contraception Consultation (ViC), which was introduced at Tbilisi State Medical University.

Despite these advances, there are still many gaps in advancing youth sexual and reproductive health and rights for young people. For example, there are no state supported sex education programs that exist in many countries of Eastern Europe and Central Asia including Georgia. Since there is no state supported sex education programs including information about HIV/AIDS, no information targeted specifically at young people is available, and health service providers are not equipped with the skills to meet young people’s needs for information, counselling and confidentiality of services. Therefore, the non-formal education mostly led by non-profit sector play a significant role in youth sex education.

New ways to raise awareness

The IntiMate app aims to improve knowledge of young people around issues of sexual and reproductive health and rights including HIV/AIDS. With the goal to spark the conversation around the issues, by containing easily comprehensible, fun, attractive content and to encourage participation of young people in prevention of HIV/AIDS. Containing quiz games, video information, definitions, calendar, list of youth friendly services among others, now young people in Georgia will have access reliable information on sexual health and wellbeing at their fingertips. Launched in July 2017, it already has already attracted international media attention.

Russia is Dancing for Life

Author: Anastasia Petrova, Russia

“Congratulations to “FOCUS-MEDIA” and dance4life for the victory in presidential grants competition!” This was the message Ekaterina Artemenko, the coordinator of projects in Moscow “FOCUS Media” foundation, got from her colleague around midnight on July 31. The happy news spread quickly and all danc4life project members knew about it the next day. The initiative was supported this year by the Presidential Grant Foundation.

Starting from 2006, non-commercial organizations in Russia are supported by the president. This was the first year of the presidential grant competition. For 10-year existence, the system of finance distribution was quite complicated: at first the head of the state approved the list of non-commercial organizations (NCO) – the receivers of grants with his decree, and then the NCOs were included into the finance distribution system. In 2017, the procedure was simplified: grant participants may apply online. There has appeared the unified operator – presidential grant foundation.

Coordination committee summed up the results of the first competition on 31 July, 2017. There were 970 NCOs-winners from 79 regions in the winner list, which is around 15% of all applications. There were 6,623 projects that participated in the competition. Three Russian NCOs, included in the register as “foreign agents,” are among presidential grants recipients. Operator has distributed grants with the total sum of 2.25 billion Russian Rubles within the first competition. The most financed project among the 12 grant departments was “Citizen Health Protection, Promotion of Healthy Lifestyle.”

Recognition of merit

Public Health and Social Development Foundation “FOCUS -MEDIA” celebrated its 20th anniversary last year. “We are happy to have received this grant, but frankly, we are also a bit surprised,” the employees of the foundation are saying.

There is a lot of work ahead even after receiving the grant. Financing will allow to run the project dance4life in 14 Russian cities. It will also include a module on tobacco addiction prophylaxis and anti-tobacco campaigns. Besides, the project will include additional component in the form of helping teenagers and young people with HIV. They will be able to volunteer in the project and take part in all of the activities.

Dancing is a universal language

Dance4life project, which won the grant, is a unique international initiative. The initiative aims at promotion of healthy lifestyle among young people, preservation and promotion of reproductive health, HIV infection prevention and many more socially important diseases. More than two million people from 20 different countries have been a part of the programme over the years of its existence.

The project started in 2005 in Russia. It began after “FOCUS Media” Foundation director Evgenia Alekseeva met the Dutch creator of the project Ilco van der Linde. After this meeting, she decided to take this international initiative to Russia. “FOCUS Media” Foundation existed for seven years by that time, dealt with health protection and, in particular, with AIDS prophylaxis among youth. That is why the aim of the project (which includes the prophylaxis of socially important diseases, addiction formation and strengthening young people) coincided with the foundation’s activity.

Now dance4life is a project with 12-year-old history in Russia, and it runs in more than 14 regions. During the years of its activity, it managed to involve around 220,000 young people, who say that dance4life has changed their lives. The keys to the uniqueness of the project are youth culture, energy and creativity that help spread the information on preserving health and taking responsibility for one’s life. Dancing as a part of the project is a universal language, connecting dance4life participants from all over the world.

The results will be presented on AIDS 2018

There were some guests in the ““FOCUS -MEDIA” Foundation office a week before receiving the news about winning the grant. Yulia Koval-Molodtsova, a former project coordinator in Russia and now an associate in the main dance4life office in the Netherlands, came to Russia to talk about the new working models.

After running the same programme since 2005, the international dance4life team has been working on the analysis and improvement of the project methodology. While the old working model made an accent on youth education, the new programme aims at self-realization of society. Now the programme invites young people on a journey: from relationship with oneself, to the relationships with partners and society in general. The components of HIV and sexually-transmitted infections (STI) prophylaxis, issues of contraception and gender equality are now skillfully connected with such important for young people topics: self-knowledge, establishment of personal boundaries, and control of social stereotypes. The principles of work have not changed: to inspire, teach, involve and celebrate. Due to the “peer to peer” approach, young people become the driving force of the project.

New model of work will be approved during this year. The pilot project is running in two regions. In Nizhny Novgorod, where the project is successfully running from the start, they work in cooperation with local schools. The new contacts will be established from scratch in Kolomna, a city in Moscow region, where dance4life is just starting. The model of the project is universal and can be used for both learning and leisure purposes of young people.

Even though the project will be financed by the Presidential Foundation till the end of 2018, the managers of the project would like to sum up the first results of work by next summer. The results of work and experience in the area of HIV/AIDS among youth will be introduced on the International AIDS Conference in 2018. The focus of this conference will be on Eastern European and Central Asian countries.