Happy with HIV in Tajikistan

Tajik wedding. Source: wikimedia.org

Author: Nargis Hamrabaeva, Tajikistan

A Tadjik girl Nozanin was diagnosed with HIV after her husband-migrant returned home a few years ago. As the man has found it out, he walked out on her… Now the 40-year-old woman is happily married again.

Everything was like a fairy tale

“It happened unexpectedly, like in a fairy tale. Once I was taking care of the household, when my friend, who liked me, called. He said that he would come with a mullah (a clergyman conducting the wedding ceremony according to the Muslim canons – editor’s note) and some of our colleagues. They really came. After the religious wedding ceremony, we went to his parents,” Nozanin is saying.

This friend turned out to be a client of the Republican Network of Women Living with HIV, where Nozanin has been working. He was also HIV positive. He wanted to marry a woman with the same status and Nozanin somehow even tried to find him a suitable candidate. It turned out that the man was already in love with her…

“I never thought that I could ever get married again, especially having HIV status,” she says.

Today Nozanin considers herself to be a happy woman. Together with her husband they have a lot of plans and ideas, and they also want to give birth to a healthy child. Many couples living with HIV have the same desire.

A marriage contract is not needed

700 people in Tajikistan receive support from the Republican Network of Women Living with HIV. For the most part, these are young people who want to start a happy family.

Tahmina Haydarova, the head of the network, says that young men between the ages of 18 and 35 come to them searching for a soulmate with the same HIV status. Often these are labor migrants, former drug users or prisoners who have never been married before. Brides are usually those who have already been married. These women contracted the virus from a migrant husband or partner who used drugs.

Such brides do not ask to sign a marriage contract; they do not ask for an apartment or dacha. The most important thing for them is the timely use of antiretroviral therapy by their future spouse and a healthy life.

HIV is not a barrier

Each year the Republican Network of Women Living with HIV helps at least 5-6 young HIV positive people to find their spouses. Takhmina Haydarova is telling about 10 couples who decided to start a family with the fact that one of the spouses is HIV positive.

“If a person loves and accepts you for who you are, then HIV is not an obstacle to start a family. Today antiretroviral drugs that block the HIV are available. A person living with HIV with a suppressed viral load can start a family, give birth to a healthy child, live a full and happy life the way our clients do,” she says.

According to the Republican AIDS Center, the total number of HIV positive citizens in Tajikistan has reached 10 thousand people, one third of them are women. Since 2004, women with HIV have given birth to 1,000 children, 600 of these children have no HIV.

Bridging the Gaps in Clinical Guideline to Care in Pregnancy for Women Using Psychoactive Substances

All the regions of Kyrgyzstan already received the developed clinical guideline

The estimate number of people who use injected drugs (PWID) in Kyrgyzstan is about 25,000 people. Many of these people are women. Such is the data from the research that was conducted within the framework of the Global Fund’s grant in 2013.

Applying recommendations in practice

In 2016, Public Fund (PF) Asteria, a community based organisation that protects rights of women who use drugs in Kyrgyzstan, applied to AFEW-Kyrgyzstan seeking for a help in developing a clinical guideline to care in pregnancy for women who use drugs. Within the framework of the project Bridging the Gaps: health and rights for key populations, AFEW-Kyrgyzstan decided to support this initiative as there were no modern standards for working with women who use drugs in the country before. A working group that included an expert in narcology, an obstetrician-gynecologist, an expert in evidence-based medicine, and a representative of the community of women who use drugs was created. In January 2017, the clinical guideline “Care in pregnancy, childbirth and the puerperium for women who use psychoactive substances” was approved by the order of the Ministry of Health and became mandatory for doctors’ use.

“When the guideline was approved, we realized that it is not enough to simply distribute it among the doctors. It was necessary to organize a comprehensive training for the family doctors, obstetrician-gynecologists and other specialists so that they could not only apply the developed recommendations in practice, but also share their experience with their colleagues,” said Chinara Imankulova, project manager of the Bridging the Gaps: health and rights of key populations at AFEW-Kyrgyzstan.

In April 2017, trainings were organized for the teachers of Kyrgyz State Medical Institute for postgraduate students. The manuals for teachers with presentations have been developed so that in the future trained teachers could deliver reliable information to the course participants. This approach gives an opportunity to train all healthcare professionals in the country and provides them with an access to the protocol.

In August 2017, trainings were offered to obstetrician-gynecologists of the centers of family medicine and obstetrical institutions. During the trainings, specialists got acquainted with the latest research in this field, studied the peculiarities of pregnancy, prenatal and postnatal period of women, who use drugs, as well as ways to avoid or minimize the risks of drug exposure to women and children.

“Two or three years ago, when our pregnant women who use drugs visited doctors, they were afraid that doctors would force them to have an abortion. In September 2017, our client Victoria, who at that time was on methadone therapy, visited the obstetrician-gynecologist. Victoria gave birth to a healthy girl, and doctors treated Victoria and her child very well. Moreover, the doctor even helped Victoria to get methadone so she could spend enough time in the hospital for rehabilitation after the childbirth,” said Tatiana Musagalieva, a representative of PF Asteria.

Women should not be discriminated

During the trainings, 100 specialists who are working in the republic of Kyrgyzstan were trained. Doctors from the regional centers were also invited for the training. It is very important to provide access to quality medical services for women who use drugs in the rural areas. Doctors also learned to get rid of their stigma towards women who use drugs and always treat them with respect. A class on stigma and discrimination was taught by women from the community of drug users. They told the participants of the training their stories, talked about how difficult it was when doctors refused to treat them or insulted them. This part was useful in reducing stigma and discrimination among doctors, in showing them that women who use drugs are just like the others.

“Before the training I met several pregnant women who use drugs. To be honest, I was not sure that they could give birth to healthy children. Having received the clinical protocol, and with the knowledge I have got in the training, I realized that these women should not be discriminated. I learned about scientific recommendations for conducting pregnancy in the situations that cannot do harm to either mother or child. This helped me a lot,” said the participant of the training, obstetrician-gynecologist Kaliyeva Burul.

All the regions of the republic already received the developed clinical guideline. Doctors who have been trained, share their experiences with their colleagues and help women who use drugs to safely plan their pregnancies and give births to healthy children. AFEW-Kyrgyzstan continues to monitor the work of specialists who have been trained, and monitors if all health specialists have access to the guideline. In the future, AFEW-Kyrgyzstan will continue to work on improving the quality of life of people who use drugs, and will monitor the usage of this protocol by doctors.

Bridging the Gaps Returned the Faith

Tahmina’s story is one of the positive stories of women in Tajikistan, who, due to the social and legal support of the project Bridging the Gaps: Health and Rights for Key Populations 2.0, again received hope and planned positive changes in their lives.

Family issues pushed to drugs

“When I studied in the 4th grade, my parents already had five children. This is the usual situation in Tajik families in the rural areas. Due to the frequent childbirth and burdensome care for five young children at the same time, my mother often fell ill. I had to drop out of school and take care of everything by myself,” Tahmina is saying.

Tahmina was taking care of all the things in the house, raised her brothers and sisters, helped them with school. Because of the health problems, her mother was constantly in hospitals. Her father spent days at work and came home late at night.

In one of such evenings, when the father was late at work and the mother was in the hospital, Tahmina’s uncle – her father’s brother – visited their house. Asking little Tahmina to come out of the house with him, the uncle raped her. Some time later, the neighbour found unconscious Tahmina and brought her to the hospital. Long investigations started, her mother and father were almost having nervous break-downs because the relatives of the girl started to hate her and blamed her for everything.

“Policemen always came to our house and asked me strange questions. I remember that when I came to the courtroom and saw my uncle there, I just fainted,” Tahmina is saying. “My uncle eventually was sent to prison and I became the cast-away for many of the relatives from my father’s side. Trying to save me from them, my parents sent me to the relatives from my mother’s side. I was always traveling to Dushanbe or to the other cities of the country.”

The girl started to meet different people, became friends with other girls in Qurghonteppa. During one of the meetings, the girls offered Tahmina to smoke cigarettes and then marihuana. They introduced Tahmina to Azam (the name is changed) who turned to be the big drug-dealer in Qurghonteppa.

“During a year and a half, he was keeping me locked in one of his apartments. Sometimes late at night, he would take me to the restaurants,” the woman recalls. “Taking all of this into consideration, he was still sending money to my parents. He taught me how to use drugs. This is how I became addicted to heroin. After some time, Azam’s interest to me faded away and I found myself on the street. Because at that moment my life totally depended on heroin, I started to steal and do sex work so that I could get a doze. As a result, I went to prison.”

The key visit to AFEW-Tajikistan

In 2013, Tahmina went to prison because of the theft. Being imprisoned for a quarter of her term, she got free because of the amnesty. When she went back home, the woman again faced the threats from her father’s relatives side. She had to leave her home and started to live on the streets again. After many unpleasant adventures, Tahmina met people who use drugs whom she knew before, and she started to use again.

Once, Tahmina met Bahriddin whom she knew before. He was also using drugs, but, to Tahmina’s surprise, he changed, and was looking good and happy. It turned out that Bahriddin started to work in the public organisation AFEW-Tajikistan as a peer consultant. He told Tahmina about how he succeeded to change, and he also mentioned the help and services that his organisation is providing. Tahmina got interested in that and decided to visit the drop-in center for the drug users and see everything by herself.

When she just came to AFEW-Tajikistan’s drop-in center, Tahmina was surprised that even though she had a dirty dress and flip-flops were barely covering her bloody feet, she was greeted very warmly. She was offered some tea and the workers talked with her about her health.

“I was very skinny and dirty, and I could not remember the last time I took shower or bath,” Tahmina is remembering that day now.

The social workers helped Tahmina with taking care of herself. They also helped her to come back to her parents’ house, arranged the documents for her and sent her to the doctors so that she could be checked and her health could be improved.

To see the sun again

Since summer 2017, Tahmina comes to the drop-in center very regularly. She is also taking part in self-help groups of people who use drugs. She learned the basics of her personal hygiene, HIV prevention and sexually transmitted infections (STI.) She got to know how to cope with the drug use and the possibilities to live sober. During one of the meetings, Tahmina got to know about opioid-substitution treatment (OST.) The friendly and warm atmosphere, respect and the possibility to get methadone for free inspired Tahmina to change her life.

Since August of the same year, Tahmina started to take part in OST programme that is located in the drug center where she would never go by herself. Nowadays, Tahmina is taking methadone and continues to take part in self-help groups. She found many friends who understand her and are ready to support her.

“With the support of AFEW-Tajikistan, during half of the year, I changed for better. I believed the peer consultants and social workers and started to help my mother, and I have not done so since I left home. AFEW helped me to gain the trust in myself again. My eyes are shining like it was before, I again see the sun and I want to live!” Tahmina is finishing her story with the smile on her face.

Only in 2017, 688 female drug users and vulnerable women in the Republic of Tajikistan were provided with the prevention and social services within the project Bridging the Gaps: Health and Rights for Key Populations 2.0 that is financed by the Ministry of the Foreign Affairs of the Netherlands.

“Kyianka+”: Understanding the Lives of Ukrainian Women Living with HIV

Author: Yana Kazmirenko, Ukraine

Vera Varyga (in the center) is often sharing the success of Kyianka+

Members of “Kyianka+” self-help group conduct regular meetings to exchange positive emotions, share success stories and learn how to resist psychological abuse.

Vera Varyga, leader and founder of the “Kyianka+” self-help group for women living with HIV, receives at least three anonymous phone calls a day to their hotline phone number +38 (067) 239 69 36 from women who have just learned about their HIV status. This hotline number is promoted at the HIV testing locations. Vera’s words may have a significant influence on the future lives of these women and their ability to accept their status and move on.

“Kyianka+” group, operating with support from ICF “AIDS Foundation East-West” (AFEW-Ukraine), was created three years ago, and has already helped more than 150 women. Women living with HIV attend monthly meetings, participate in master classes and get psychological counselling.

“It was very difficult for me to accept my HIV status. I received my first psychological assistance from another woman living with HIV only two years after I was diagnosed. During my first self-help group session, I cried a lot, but women supported me, believed in me and showed me that I am not an outcast. Now, in my groups, I see other girls crying like I was,” says Vera.

In the district hospital of Kharkiv region, Vera had to deal with cruel and unfriendly attitude from staff, which was typical of the Ukrainian provincial medical facilities back in the early 2000s. People diagnosed with HIV were perceived as socially dangerous elements, almost criminals.

Today Vera is a role model – a self-assured woman, a mother of two healthy boys, a beloved wife. She is very friendly, laughs a lot and loves her coral lipstick.

Difficulty of disclosure

At “Kyianka+” sessions, women share their concerns and success stories, trying to find their own way to get on with their lives.

“For example, we conduct role plays during which we model HIV-status disclosure to different people: mothers, partners, children, bosses or health workers. Mothers usually face the most difficult task of telling their sons or daughters about their status. Preparation for such disclosure takes more than a year, and we recommend having a psychologist present: it is hard for a mother not to burst out crying in such a situation,” Vera explains.

Vera is proud of the atmosphere in her group: all the girls get along well, not least because of the set of rules that they developed together:

  1. Confidentiality: nothing discussed in the group can be shared outside of the group.
  2. Attendance is not allowed for women who currently use drugs – they have other values. If they succeed in quitting – they are always welcome.
  3. No criticizing: all women are free to express their opinions.
  4. No medical advice or recommendations: treatment can only be prescribed by a doctor.
  5. The group is for mutual support: you get help and you give help.

All responsibility is on her

Men and women react differently when they hear about HIV-positive status. Men usually need a clear plan, while women often feel panic and become depressed. In our culture, the challenges of solving health problems and thinking about the future of the family often fall upon women.

“Our task is to teach a woman to love and respect herself, to find time for treatment and to make her health a priority. It is like an emergency situation in a plane: first put on your mask, and then put a mask on your child,” Vera says.

Traditions are another area of concern for Ukrainian women: what will the parents say? How will children, neighbours, colleagues react? Is my husband going to leave me? Women have to deal with stigma: everything they had thought about HIV before becomes part of their personal story.

Teaching to share and to help

Anna Lilina, a 30-year-old woman from Kyiv, was diagnosed with HIV when she was three months’ pregnant. Doctors’ prescriptions saved her daughter from getting HIV. Back in the municipal AIDS Center, Anna learned about the self-help group, but she only went there later, when in trouble. She and her daughter were thrown on the street by her boyfriend, whom she had met at the hospital.

Anna Lilina took part in a photo shoot that raised awareness about violence

“My relatives gave me money to pay for the first and last months of the apartment rent. He suggested I moved in with him and spent the money to renovate his house and fix his car. When the money was gone, he forced me out into the street in winter,” Anna says.

Anna needed support and sympathy. Therefore, two years ago, she came to the self-help group.

“After every self-help group session, I get so much energy that it feels I have wings and I can fly, but with every stressful situation, I return to the ground, and feel depressed,” Anna confesses.

It is not only positive impressions that women share at the group. They also started exchanging clothes, baby formulas, information about babysitters and apartments for rent, vacancies and tickets to theatres.

Professional training courses in manicure, floristry, office-management and the English language help these women to change their lives and start making an income. Master classes are also an important part of the therapy, through which women do not only develop new skills and get a profession, but also make steps towards opening up.

Anna remembers how she tried to convince a guy who infected her to start taking antiretroviral therapy. He, however, was saying that AIDS is an invention of American doctors who want to make money. He did start taking the therapy, but only after he had fainted and had to be hospitalized.

“I do not mind anymore that I have HIV. I have met real friends and learned how to be happy about simple things. Volunteer work and organizing help for people in need – this is my new talent, and in the future I would like to become a social worker,” Anna shares.

The number of women in need of Anya and Vera’s help will only increase, as in April 2016 Kyiv joined the Fast-Track Cities initiative to accelerate and scale-up AIDS response, one of the goals of which to ensure that by 2020 ninety per cent of people living with HIV know their status and receive therapy.

Who needs you?

Group master class on felting toys

“Kyianka+” members have a secret Facebook chat to share their thoughts and concerns. The online group allows participants to interfere and help each other in critical situations. Among the most discussed are postings about psychological abuse, especially in discordant couples with an HIV-positive woman and HIV-negative man.

Vera says that her clients often have difficulties with setting the boundaries and counteracting manipulation. If a woman does not make it clear that her status is not a humiliation, her partner’s manipulative actions may reach new levels. For example, he may decide to take charge of the family budget.

“I was stunned by the stories of our clients. To avoid a break-up, one woman’s husband was threatening his wife to tell everyone about her status. Another man said he would disclose this information at their son’s school. In another family, a husband and wife had not invested time to discuss the situation, and once, during a picnic with close friends, they had a fight. The man got drunk and yelled: who needs you now, you AIDS-ridden cow? This story echoed deeply in me – back in the day when I was pregnant, a doctor yelled at me in a similar way: you are ridden with AIDS, and you still want to have a baby?” Vera shares her emotions.

She is certain that with this one phrase that man said everything he thought about his partner and their relations. It is possible to forgive him afterwards, but it is not possible to trust him again. This breaks up the family, and all his reassurances and pleads for forgiveness are in vain – the couple had to discuss the situation earlier. After the picnic the couple broke up, and now they are undergoing therapy.

The Facebook post about blackmailing had a lot of responses: the participants shared links to study psychological tricks of manipulators, and the women who had similar experiences helped others with advice and recommendations on how to stand firm and raise their self-esteem.

Vera is very happy to see this meaningful participation of women. She hopes that her clients will eventually leave their worries behind and start living full lives, and that the most active of them will help organize such groups in every Ukrainian city.

AFEW Tajikistan’s Offers the Range of Unique Services

Success with harm reduction has recently been achieved in Tajikistan. HIV epidemic amongst injecting drug users also seems to stabilize and even decline. Unfortunately, HIV is still increasing as now it also enters wider community around people who use drugs (PUD) and other key populations. Sexual transmission of HIV is rising, and women is the most vulnerable group in this new wave of HIV infections. Besides, in Tajikistan there are other health related issues with tuberculosis, hepatitis and sexual and reproductive health. These are the observations of AFEW International’s director of the programs Janine Wildschut who visited Tajikistan last week to monitor the work of ‘Bridging the Gaps: health and rights for key popualtions’ programme.

Empowering women is the aim

Within ‘Bridging the Gaps’ programme, AFEW Tajikistan with its partners are focusing on service delivery mainly for female drug users, female prisoners, wives and spouses of PUD. Through the Comprehensive Service Delivery Centre in Qurghonteppa, AFEW Tajikistan is delivering a broad range of services for vulnerable groups, where all groups are welcome.

“We face the issues with health and with the rights of individuals. We want to empower women to take care about themselves, and it is very important to support them in speaking out for their interest and needs,” Janine is saying. “AFEW Tajikistan offers the unique opportunity to have HIV test on the base of the NGO. They also offer wider psycho social support and client management for women based on their needs.”

In Tajikistan Janine also conducted assessment amongst PUD that have labor migration experience. With the support of Open Society Institute Tajikistan, AFEW Tajikistan is supporting labour migrating women returnees with client management. During the focus groups, different women were asked about their needs, quality of services they received, ideas for further improvements and their lives.

Starting vocational training

Janine Wildschut also conducted interviews with NGO partners about the situation for civil society in Tajikistan, spoke with governmental partners within the health department and penitentiary system and worked with AFEW Tajikistan staff on the development and strategies within the next years of the ‘Bridging the Gaps’ programme.

“During the focus group, opioid substitution therapy (OST) clients expressed the uniqueness of the service centre in Qurghonteppa. The biggest challenge for people is to travel every day to the OST point to pick up their methadone, since some of them live quite far and have little resources to spend on transportation,” Janine noticed. “Located nearby, AFEW branch is of big help since they can, after picking up OST, go for health checkup, self-support group or use some other support. Nowadays they are experiencing less discrimination and not such bad treatment of public health facilities because with the AFEW partner network and the AFEW referral vouchers, the attitude and climate in the health facilities in Khatlon region improved a lot. Besides, the support of social workers decreased the level of self-stigma which makes people less fearful to visit  public health services.”

The biggest challenge people still face is the lack of work and education. For that reason, AFEW Tajikistan is considering the option of starting vocational training and enterprise. These plans will be developed in collaboration with experts and micro credit organizations that are part of the partner network.

Almaty is the first city in Central Asia to sign the Paris Declaration

Paris Declaration in Almaty was signed by Deputy Akim of Almaty city Murat Daribaev and UNAIDS Director in the Republic of Kazakhstan Alexander Goleusov

Author: Marina Maximova, Kazakhstan

The world movement, which already includes more than 70 major cities around the world, has reached Central Asia. The first city, whose authorities signed Paris Declaration with an appeal to stop AIDS epidemic on July 20, 2017, was Almaty. Signing of the declaration became possible and was organized within the framework of the project “Fast-Track TB/HIV Responses for Key Populations in EECA cities”, implemented by AIDS Foundation East-West in Kazakhstan.

Almaty is the largest city in Kazakhstan. It is cultural, financial and economic centre of the republic with a population of more than 1.7 million people. For many years it was the capital of the country. The megapolis, along with Pavlodar and Karaganda regions, has the highest rate of HIV infection in the country. Therefore, signing Paris Declaration gives Almaty opportunity and hope to improve the sad situation.

“This fact will undoubtedly attract city residents’ attention to HIV issues. People will get tested more actively, and will start their treatment in time if necessary. Almaty will participate in international health events and will have access to the most advanced achievements and developments in the field of HIV and AIDS. The best world practices will be included into the City Improvement Plan on HIV and tuberculosis until 2023. This will stop the growth of HIV epidemic and improve population’s health,” Valikhan Akhmetov, the head of the Almaty Public Health Department said during the ceremony of signing the declaration.

Sexual transmission of HIV increases

Today, there are more than five thousand registered HIV cases in the city. A quarter of the cases is observed among internal and cross-border migrants. For many years, the main route of transmission was parenteral. To stabilize the situation, the Akimat (regional executive body in Kazakhstan – editor’s comment) has introduced harm reduction programs targeted to key populations: people who inject drugs, sex workers, men who have sex with men. There are 18 syringe exchange points in the city and six friendly cabinets at polyclinics. This year, despite strong public confrontation, site for substitution therapy has been launched.

The trend of the HIV infection spread has changed dramatically in recent years. Today, the sexual transmission is already 65%. Infection, as doctors say, is now targeting general population, but people are still not aware of it and live as if it has nothing to do with them.

“It is very difficult for people from secured families and those who have good jobs to accept the positive HIV status. Women who live in a civil marriage, refuse to name their sexual partners. There can be another situation: imagine a girl coming to us with her mother, who claims that her daughter is a pure child, and she simply cannot have HIV infection,” Alfiya Denebaeva, deputy head physician of the Center for Prevention and Control of AIDS in Almaty is saying.

Some pregnant HIV-positive women do not take antiretroviral therapy (ART) because of the disbelief. Several years ago, there were cases in the city where mothers who did not believe in HIV-infection refused to take medicine, and their infants then died. Now there is an occasion to discuss this topic at the 22nd International AIDS Conference AIDS 2018 in Amsterdam, in which participants from Kazakhstan will also take part.

Regardless of what was mentioned before, Kazakhstani doctors manage to achieve high results. 99 percent of HIV-positive women give births to healthy children. There are several cases when HIV-positive women become mothers for the second and even third time. It is mostly possible thanks to mandatory two-time testing of every pregnant woman when timely diagnosis and starting of ART is possible to establish.

Almost 90% of PLHIV, who need treatment, receive ART

Regional Director of UNAIDS in Eastern Europe and Central Asia Vinay Saldana

In Almaty, testing and treatment of HIV infection is possible at the expense of the city and republican budgets. Back in 2009, the country was the first in Central Asia to start purchasing ARV drugs for adults and children. Today Almaty is the leader: more than 88% of people living with HIV (PLHIV) in need of ART, receive this treatment. This figure is higher than the same figure in the republic by eight percent. The megapolis is much closer to achieving AIDS targets 90-90-90 than any other city in the country: 90% of people living with HIV should be aware of their HIV status; 90% of people who are aware of their positive HIV status should receive antiretroviral treatment; and 90% of people receiving treatment should have a suppressed viral load that will allow them to stay healthy and reduce the risk of HIV transmission.

Another statistic data is showing the advantages of life-saving therapy. The effectiveness of treatment for PLHIV is more than 76%. Thanks to the early beginning of ART, there has been a 20% decrease in new tuberculosis cases among HIV-positive people. This is a very important achievement because the combination of HIV and tuberculosis infections is the main cause of death among PLHIV. Over the past year, this number has increased by 20%. The main reasons for this are late detection of HIV and amnestied patients, who arrive home from places of detention in critical condition. In every third case, the death was inevitable due to the specifics of the damage of the immune system and other organs. Mostly it was cancer or general body atrophy.

“Thanks to United Nations assistance, Kazakhstan has developed a new mechanism for purchasing ARV drugs. Only three years ago, we were spending several thousand dollars per year for a single patient. Now this cost is reduced to the minimum. Therefore, previously we could not advise people living with HIV to start treatment immediately, but now this treatment is available to everyone,” Vinay Saldana, Regional Director of UNAIDS in Eastern Europe and Central Asia is saying.

Open Call for Applications for Eurasian Gender Academy 2017 Announced

An open call for applications to participate in the second Eurasian Gender Academy 2017 is announced.

Eurasian Gender Academy  is developed in response to the pressing need to address the persistent gender inequalities and human rights violations that put Women, Girls and Transgender (WG/TG) at a greater risk of, and more vulnerable to HIV, hepatitis and tuberculosis. This event is conducted in the framework of RCNF-funded Project “Eastern European Regional Platform for Accelerated Action for Women, Girls and Transgender in in HIV/AIDS Context”.

The 2nd Eurasian Gender Academy 2017 focuses on actions in four areas, outlined below:

  1. Integrating gender analysis into assessment, programme design, implementation and monitoring of organizational and national public health responses and strategies;
  2. Strengthening the capacity of participants to systemically integrate and apply gender sensitive, gender oriented, gender budgeted, gender transforming programs, services and activities at organizational and national levels;
  3. Ensuring inclusion of gender aspects in funding appeals and proposals;
  4. Developing and implementing gender-responsive advocacy and lobby.

Eurasian Gender Academy program is rooted in a broad-based gender equity and human rights approach and reflects a number of principles, including participation, evidence-informed, tailored and ethical responses, partnership, the engagement of boys and men, leadership, multisectorality and accountability.

You can find more information about the program, application and selection process here.

Natalya Shumskaya: “We Want to Improve Country Health System Coordinating Mechanisms”

shumskayaPublic Foundation “AIDS Foundation East-West in the Kyrgyz Republic” makes a significant contribution to public health of the country in reducing the growth rate of socially significant infections in Kyrgyzstan. The head of AFEW-Kyrgyzstan Natalya Shumskaya is telling what we should expect from the organisation in 2017, and outlines the achievements of the previous year.

 – How was the year of 2016 for AFEW-Kyrgyzstan? What do you think were your greatest successes?

– 2016 was a successful and fruitful for our organization. We managed to keep our activities on HIV prevention in the prison system, including law enforcement, prevention of HIV among women who use drugs. During the last year, 1013 women received an access to health and social services. One of the achievements was that in 2016 our organization supported the Ministry of Health of the Kyrgyz Republic in the development of the clinical protocol “Pregnancy, childbirth and the postnatal period for women who use drugs.” In December of the last year this protocol was adopted. Later, we started a very difficult project with the aim to return the patients with multidrug-resistant tuberculosis (MDR-TB) to the treatment. Since August 2016, AFEW-Kyrgyzstan together with the City Centre for Tuberculosis Control in Bishkek started a project “Joint control of tuberculosis and HIV in Kyrgyz Republic.” During five months of 2016, 17 MDR-TB patients returned for the treatment; three patients co-infected with HIV were connected to antiretroviral treatment, five patients with tuberculosis and extensively drug resistant TB (XDR-TB) had the necessary tests, and their results were given to the council for inclusion in a treatment program under the new scheme. There was organized controlled treatment at home for 28 patients. The delivery of products is done 6 days a week, except Sundays. Additionally, project case managers conduct information sessions with patients with MDR-TB and their inner social circle, monitor the side effects of anti-TB drugs, and, if necessary, deliver drugs to relieve the side effects. They also maintain regular contact with doctors. In January of 2017 we increased project staff. It was done for the full coverage of all MDR-TB patients who need to receive treatment at home and assisting them to diagnosis and friendly services. Two case managers and a social worker were hired.

– How is the work of the research department of your organization that you created two years ago?

– The Department continues to work successfully. Over the past year, the researchers conducted a qualitative study among the inmates of correctional facilities that are getting ready to be released. It was called “Prisons, injecting drugs and the environment of risk of HIV infection.” This is a continuation of the positive experience of effective cooperation of AFEW-Kyrgyzstan with medical school researchers from Yale University and the State Penitentiary Service of the Kyrgyz Republic. This study aims to describe and research the quality of the program of methadone substitution treatment in the penitentiary system of Kyrgyzstan and civil society. The recommendations based on those results will be offered to the country to optimize harm reduction programs.

– One of the main directions of your work is cooperation with the police and the prison systems. Please tell us, how is this cooperation going? What is the role of AFEW in it?

– AFEW cooperates with the Ministry of Internal Affairs for 10 years already. In 2016 our organization has provided technical support to the Ministry in carrying out monitoring visits to all the regions of the country. The aim of the visits was to control how the law enforcement officers perform the instruction on HIV prevention. In addition, we organized and conducted four trainings for the staff responsible for the official trainings and for non-governmental organizations on the reform of law enforcement agencies. It is important that the civil sector supports current reforms, and it is important that law enforcement officers assist the execution of the State Programme on HIV.

AFEW is also working with the penitentiary system of the country for more than 10 years. We work together in three areas: technical assistance and coordination, increasing the capacity of staff and providing direct services to prisoners. In 2016 we worked first in six and then in four institutions to promote the goal 90-90-90. We provided services for people who inject drugs (PIDs), told them about HIV and the ways of transmission, motivated them to pass the test for HIV. We actively worked with people living with HIV at the stages of realising of the diagnosis, preparation for therapy, start of therapy, development of adherence to treatment. One of the achievements, of course, is to extend the work on the colony-settlements. Before, prisoners there fell of HIV prevention services, as there are no medical units there, and they usually have no documents for getting help from the civilian health organizations.

– In October AFEW-Kyrgyzstan helped to sign a memorandum of cooperation of four key groups. Please, tell us what these groups are and why their teamwork is so important? How is this cooperation going now?

– Unfortunately, there is mutual stigma within the key groups. Cooperation can help to overcome barriers and build partnerships. The leaders of key groups started to work closer. They discuss new joint projects, research abstracts for AIDS2018 conference in Amsterdam. Together they will carry out activities to reduce stigma and discrimination in relation to other key groups through the mini-session, for example, PIDs for LGBT and sex workers’ organizations. Since last year, we have been inviting all the participants of memorandum for the event and, of course, they also invite us for their events.

– In February, you will host a training for the members of the Country Coordinating Committee on HIV/AIDS (CCC) project BACK UP-Health. Tell us more about it. What are other areas of your work with the CCC?

– Starting from July 2016, AFEW-Kyrgyzstan will implement the project “Harmonization and consolidation of resources to fight HIV infection and tuberculosis in Kyrgyzstan.” It will be done with the financial support of GIZ, program Back Up-Health. With this project we want to improve the coordination mechanisms in the country’s health care system. We want to involve civil society in the discussion on the reform of CCC, and we also want to increase the capacity of the Committee. In February of 2017 AFEW-Kyrgyzstan plans to host a seminar for members of the CCC to prepare the Country Request for continued funding in the state funding for 2018-2020. The following groups will take part in the seminar: members of the Committee for the preparation of applications for resource mobilization and harmonization of CCC; CCC board; members of the Advisory Working Group, which were included by the Kyrgyz Ministry of Health; national experts who work on the preparation of the request for continued funding who will directly collect information and write application; international consultant; head of the expert working group on writing requests for funding, and also key partners from the public and international sectors which may influence decisions and who expressed their readiness to provide technical assistance in the preparation of high-quality country request to the state financing from Kyrgyzstan. During the workshop, participants will act as experts and will share their knowledge and experience with each another. They will also learn how to fill the forms for the requests, will learn the new priority areas of TB and HIV, which are included in national policies and programs, will discuss and analyse the share of public funding, make mapping of the services, clients and funding. Actually, the main purpose of this seminar is to assist the CCC, experts and other stakeholders in the preparation of high-quality application. We want everyone to have one vision and one structure of the request, so that the process of approval of the CCC members is efficient and fast.

– What are AFEW-Kyrgyzstan plans for the year of 2017?

– AFEW-Kyrgyzstan spent its first three years as a local non-governmental organization. The most important achievement is that we were able to successfully implement its first strategic plan and to develop partnerships with international and donor organizations. In 2017 we will review the strategic plan of the organization. Of course, the priority for the board of the organization has been and continues to be ensuring of the stability of the organization.

Bridging the Gaps in Women’s Hostel in Kyrgyzstan


Leila and Sofia live in women hostel in Bishkek

Five-year-old Sofia is playing with her mother’s telephone. The girl is sitting on the floor and is listening to the music. She is switching between the songs, watching videos, and trying to find her favourite track. There are four beds in a small room. At some moment, the girl puts the phone away and asks: “Mom, what will Santa bring me?”

“What would you like, dear?” she hears from her mother, and the broad smile appears on her face. “I would like him to bring me a kitten. I will feed it with milk.”

When the girl is smiling, she has cute dimples on her cheeks. She brings a toy – plastic alphabet with the buttons. She presses the letters and repeats them. Sometimes she gets the letters wrong, and then the mother asks her to do it again.


Sofia and her forty-year-old mother Leila live in the hostel that operates in the centre of adaptation and socialization of women – injecting drug users in the public fund Asteria in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan. Leila was recently released from prison.


Leila is teaching Sofia an alphabet

“I do not have any relatives; I was raised in the orphanage. I got to prison when I was pregnant, and my daughter was born there,” Leila tells. “Now I work in the kitchen or wash the floors. Recently I went to Turkey, and wanted to find a job there, but I do not know Turkish language, and that is why it did not happen. By education, I am a seamstress and a pastry chef, but it is hard to find a job because I am HIV-positive. I am being asked about my diagnosis all the time, and I always have to go through medical examinations. Now I have found a job as a nursemaid, but I do not have anyone to leave my daughter with. She has to go to kindergarten, but all of them here are not free of charge. I will have to spend almost whole salary to cover the pay for kindergarten… I am currently waiting for the cash advance to pay.”

Leila says that she tells her new friends about her diagnosis, even though she does not always want to do it.

“I think, people with my disease should talk about it, and warn others as well. Now I also bring other people to get tested. I am telling them they have to do it, and that it is free of charge,” Leila says. “Of course, people treat me different when I tell them about my diagnosis. Yes, it is unpleasant, but I am happy that in this way I do something nice to others. Everybody should know such things.”


Leila is worried that the hostel in Asteria can be closed. In that case, the woman can end up on the street. She does not have anywhere to go to.

“I should not be complaining; we have everything here. The main thing is the roof over your head,” the woman smiles and hugs her daughter. “I am very comfortable here. We receive medical treatment, there is a place to sleep, to do laundry. Every Sunday we go to church. In the church I always pray for this house, for people who help us here, and ask God that the organization has donors.”


The head of Asteria Iren Ermolaeva shows the rules of the hostel

Leila says that she would like to move from the hostel in the future, but she does not have such possibility yet. She dreams of her own home, family, and work. She also wishes that the hostel will never close. People who work in Asteria have the same desire.

“We indeed often have problems with financing. Every year we do not know what to expect in the next one,” the head of the public fund Asteria Iren Ermolaeva says. “Our public fund is working since 2007, and the hostel – since 2009. We would like to have the whole range of services, but there is not enough financing these days. We know how to find the approach to women, we know how to create friendly atmosphere so that a woman would want to change her life for better herself, and we would like to use this knowledge. We feel sorry for our clients, and we would like to help them more.”


Workers of Asteria also dream about purchasing the house where they will place the centre of adaptation and socialization of women – injecting drug users and the hostel. They have already found funds for the future house renovation, but cannot find money for its purchase.

“Then we would be able to have social entrepreneurship, maybe some little farm. In that way, we could at least not depend on donors in food,” the coordinator of the social services of the fund Tatiana Musagalieva is saying. “Until now, we rented all three houses for our centre.”


Asteria workers Iren Ermolaeva (on the right) and Tatiana Musagalieva say that their organisation often has problems with financing

Thanks to “Bridging the Gaps: Health and Rights for Key Populations” project from Public Foundation “AIDS Foundation East-West in the Kyrgyz Republic”, in 2016 Asteria could support four beds in the hostel. The project also helped with medicine and warm food.

“People often come to us to eat, to do laundry,” Iren Ermolaeva says. “Around 300 women come through our centre during one year. Leila, for instance, came here after she was released from prison. She has got all the necessary services, clothes, shoes, and got medical examinations. Leila was imprisoned for five years, and, now, due to the conditions that we have, she adapts and integrates into society. In this way, she becomes more confident in herself, can find a job and build her future.”

AFEW: High Standards in Service Delivery

The new social bureau of AIDS Foundation East-West in Tajikistan attracts diverse key populations for respectful attitude, quality services and professional counselling

In 2014, AIDS Foundation East-West (AFEW) officially opened its branch office in the Khatlon region (in the city of Qurghonteppa, formerly Kurgan-Tyube). This branch office aimed to expand prevention, treatment, care and support services for key populations at high risk of acquiring HIV and other infectious diseases.


Prior to 2014, AFEW had never provided direct healthcare, social, psychological or legal services to key populations. Instead, AFEW supported local community organisations by increasing their capacity and providing them with the skills and knowledge to offer such services. Whilst AFEW plans to continue providing technical assistance to local non-governmental organisations (NGOs), opening its own social bureau will allow AFEW to significantly increase the coverage of quality services aimed at assisting key populations.


High unemployment rates persist in Tajikistan. Official figures indicate that 2.6% of the economically active Tajik population currently have no job, whilst many Tajik migrant labourers returned home following the Russian economic crisis. According to World Bank data from 2014, one-third of Tajikistan’s population lives below the poverty line.


In Qurghonteppa the major source of income for the locals is bazaar

Tajikistan lies along the primary transit routes of Afghan drugs making their way to Russia and eventually Europe. The Tajik–Afghan border stretches for 15 000 km, a considerable portion of which lies along rugged mountain terrain, ideal for trafficking. According to official data from 2005, officials seized 4676 kg of opiates illicitly trafficked. Since then, the volume of narcotics exported from Afghanistan has continually increased. Between 2010 and 2015, authorities seized 31 696 kg of illicit drugs.

The availability of drugs, and the high rates of poverty and unemployment in Tajikistan, relate to other demographic characteristics and statistics in the country. For example, in 2004, the estimated number of sex workers reached more than 14 000 individuals. As of 2015, unprotected sexual contact accounted for nearly 62% of all newly registered cases of HIV.

Considering these factors, AFEW chose the location of its social bureau deliberately. The Khatlon region stands as the most densely populated area in Tajikistan. According to Republican AIDS Centre data, since 2013, this region is home to the highest number of new HIV cases.



Staff meeting at AFEW social bureau

AFEW’s head office in Dushanbe — Tajikistan’s capital — took matters related to human resources for the new social bureau quite seriously. Of primary importance, setting and maintaining high standards for the social bureau received particular focus since the facility would serve as an example for other NGOs. Today, AFEW is genuinely proud of its branch office staff given how well-known and respected they are within Qurghonteppa and the surrounding region.

Until recently, Tursunpulod Norkulov, PhD (on the right) worked as the chief physician at the Regional AIDS Centre. Today, Dr Norkulov serves as a project specialist at AFEW’s social bureau. His nurse at the AIDS Centre, Kurbongul Alimova (middle) — also a trained biologist and virologist — works as a social worker within the bureau. Clients seeking services from AFEW know both Dr Norkulov and Ms. Alimova from their work at the AIDS centre. Clients also confess to experiencing better attitudes towards those seeking services at AFEW compared to elsewhere. Each individual consultation or group meeting traditionally begins with inquiries about the client’s health, exchanging news from one’s private life and a discussion about any successes and problems the client recently experienced.

JurabekJurabek is one of the most active participants of such meetings. In the past, this 48-year-old man used drugs. He now works at AFEW as an outreach worker. Jurabek knows all of the places in town where people who use drugs typically congregate, and many of those who use drugs know him. In 2015, he reached 190 individuals through his work, 14 of whom joined the opioid substitution therapy (OST) programme.

Jurabek: ‘People who use drugs do not believe in substitution therapy, because drug dealers tell them that the state is deliberately handing out methadone in order to get rid of drug users in a year or two. But, of course, this is not true and only serves to keep their clients buying street drugs. Every time I hear this myth, I tell them my own story—that I myself was on methadone, began to feel well and have now stopped taking methadone completely.’

Alisher, another AFEW outreach worker, uses the same approach when working with people living with HIV. Many are afraid to initiate treatment for HIV, or quit soon after they start it because they lack accurate information about antiretroviral treatment.

Alisher: ‘I work with HIV-positive families, and visit them together with my wife. The AIDS centre provides us with information on those who have quit treatment. The most important elements to this work consist of trust and communication. My wife and I explain to them everything that we did not hear ourselves when we needed it: information related to the side effects of treatment, the importance of continuing treatment and so on.’


Zhanna-42-SW-Kurgan_smallZhanna (42), a sex worker, divorced her husband when he found another woman when working as a migrant labourer in Russia. Finding herself alone with two young children, she became a sex worker to support herself and her family. When the opportunity arises, Zhanna also cleans houses.

She visited the social bureau initially when it opened, and continues to visit it regularly now. Here, she picks up informational brochures, takes part in information sessions and group consultations or simply comes to chat with other clients. Social worker Kurbongul regularly accompanies Zhanna during her consultations for various tests and consultations at the women’s health and infectious disease clinics. Every three months, Zhanna undergoes HIV testing.

‘I love myself and value my health,’ she said. When asked if she always uses condoms, Zhanna said that she doesn’t always with her regular clients.

She said, when she suggests that her clients use condoms, they suspect her of having a sexually transmitted infection.

Zhanna: ‘Then, I explain to them that it is for my own protection, because not all diseases have visible symptoms, including HIV.’

In future, Zhanna hopes to find a permanent job. Now, she is busy gathering the paperwork necessary to work as a kindergarten teacher.

Sharifbek-and-Bobo1Sharifbek Safarov (left) is 54 years old. He is a Master of Sport on the national wrestling team, a six-time Tajik champion and a Candidate for Master of Sport in judo. For many years, he worked as a wrestling coach. The difficult economic situation, as well as the instability resulting from the civil war in Tajikistan between 1992 and 1997 and the flow of drugs from neighbouring Afghanistan contributed to many young people, including Sharifbek, picking up heroin use.

Sharifbek: ‘For a pair of rubber galoshes, dealers doled out a half kilo of opium.’

In June 2014, Sharifbek met an outreach worker from AFEW’s branch office in the Khatlon region. After Sharifbek underwent an HIV test and screening for tuberculosis, he was offered enrolment in an OST programme.

Thanks to OST and support from social workers, Sharifbek returned to his favourite job. Today, his wrestling programme includes around 70 teenagers, for which he receives a salary from the state. In addition, his methadone dosage is gradually decreasing. With a diploma from a sports college, despite his age, Sharifbek also hopes to complete further higher education training and receive a diploma from the Sports Pedagogical Institute.

Together with his friend, Bobokhuja Badridinov (right)—who is also a client of the OST programme—they often visit AFEW’s branch office to take part in the group sessions with active drug users. In doing so, they explain the advantages of OST and the resulting positive changes to their own lives.

‘Methadone has literally saved us. We can work and feed our families. There is no need to look for drugs. It means there are fewer health risks and chances that we will get into trouble with the law.’

Shodi-MSM-Kurgan-dancer-waiter-volunteer-has-boyfriend_smallShodi (24) is a volunteer at AFEW’s social bureau. He conducts thematic mini training sessions for men who have sex with men and accompanies them to the AIDS centre and infectious diseases clinic. Nearly 20 individuals attend training sessions.

With his boyfriend, whom he met on a popular social network, Shodi regularly undergoes HIV testing. Whilst the couple has been together nearly three years, their parents remain ignorant of their relationship—they think that the two are simply good friends.

Shodi: ‘In Tajikistan, every man must marry a woman. Marriage also awaits both of us. However, this won’t be a problem for us—we will continue our relationship as always.’

In addition to his work at AFEW’s social bureau, Shodi also works as a waiter at a local cafe. When asked by his boss, Shodi performs Indian and Tajik national dances.

Whilst AFEW’s social bureau provides services to all key populations, the majority of its clients consist of people who use drugs. None of those who use drugs holds a permanent job and almost all of them served time in prison. Many clients come directly to the social bureau upon release from prison carrying AFEW’s business cards in their hands. Since September 2014, AFEW has regularly conducted training sessions for prisoners in two colonies in the Khatlon region, preparing individuals for release and reintegration into society. These activities fall within the framework of the Start Plus transitional client management programme. Currently, 26 individuals are enrolled in the programme, the main activities of which consist of AFEW informational sessions on the prevention of tuberculosis and HIV, personal hygiene and healthy lifestyles.


Clients come to AFEW’s social bureau for consultations on HIV and other infectious diseases. Here, they may also receive legal counselling and referrals to health centres. Many individuals visit the social bureau simply to chat with each other whilst drinking tea or playing ping-pong.

safetySoon, clients may undergo HIV testing on the premises of the social bureau. In September 2015, the Tajik Ministry of Health issued an order allowing on-site testing based on an AFEW initiative. To provide HIV testing services, public organisations must offer all of the necessary testing infrastructure (i.e., a separate room, equipment and materials) and the staff must complete a relevant training programme. AFEW has already met all of the requirements, including approval from the Blood Centre to handle blood samples. To begin testing, AFEW needs to amend its statute, which is also underway.

Many clients’ primary challenge centres on their lack of employment. Whilst most clients possess only a secondary education, nearly all have hands-on construction, electrical, welding and carpentry skills and experience. Many clients are willing to work in the garden to grow their own fruit and vegetables to sell, raise poultry or rabbits or initiate small-scale production of paving stones for instance. Clients argue that such opportunities would significantly change their lifestyles, habits and behaviour.



Training plan with the police

AFEW’s partnership with the Ministry of Justice’s Punishment Implementation Department to increase prisoners’ awareness of HIV prevention stands as one example of successful cooperation with state agencies. In May 2015, Tajikistan’s Interior Ministry turned to AFEW with a request to organise information sessions on HIV prevention for police personnel. Accepting this request resulted in a total of 566 police officers from district stations completing a training session. Analysis of completed pre- and post-training mandatory questionnaires demonstrated a significant improvement in knowledge about HIV and the means of prevention amongst attendees. Police training will continue in 2016.


We may safely say that AFEW’s branch office in the Khatlon region has hit the ground running. For such a small organisation, its list of accomplishments for just two years is rather impressive. With its multiple achievements, AFEW plans to expand its work amongst and for this region’s key populations.

Abdumadzhid Saitov, AFEW social bureau’s co-ordinator: ‘As we expand, we will try to accommodate as many of the wishes of our clients. For example, we will develop a library for them towards self-education, offering interesting and educational films. Unfortunately, we cannot address all of their wishes in the nearest future—for example, creating a dormitory for our homeless clients remains a bit beyond our reach. To organise such a place, we would need significant financial resources and qualified personnel.’


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