“At the Heart of the Response”: EHRN at the 25th International Harm Reduction Conference

On 14-17 May 2017, in Montreal Harm Reduction International is holding the International Conference. Eurasian Harm Reduction Network is not just a guest but an active participant.

12 May 2017

On 14-17 May 2017, Montreal, Canada will become the place to make key decisions, hold intense discussions and exchange wide experience. Harm Reduction International is holding the International Conference “At the Heart of the Response”.

Over the last two years a lot has been done to introduce new cost-effective harm reduction services. The continuum of harm reduction services and best practices in the field have been indorsed by international recommendations; harm reduction is being merged with hepatitis and TB treatment. However, this success is being negated by the tightening drug policy in the EECA region, emergence of new drugs and difficulties in securing municipal or national funding. Sustainability and quality of PWUD-oriented services is under threat in our region and the world as a whole.

Thus, the primary goal of the Conference is to define the problems and what causes them, and to choose the best ways to develop harm reduction.

Delegates from more than 70 countries confirmed their participation in the 25th Harm Reduction International Conference. Among them are representatives of PWUD communities, sex workers, people living with HIV, researchers, activists, human rights experts, healthcare workers, government officials and technical agencies. EHRN is not just a guest at the Conference but an active participant.

“EHRN is taking a large team to Montreal to have a very serious discussion with its partners from across the world – on how to help harm reduction survive in the new, very challenging environment. At present, it's only human rights activists who take the issue of human rights seriously in the Eastern Europe and Central Asia, the governments there are not yet ready to accept PWUD and are reluctant to provide funding for medical and social care for them. It's the time when we have to learn from each other on how to keep harm reduction alive and maintain its availability and quality. We've got something to offer in terms of alternatives to incarceration as a means of drug policy. We can also help with transition of harm reduction programs to domestic financing. We'll be discussing it at plenary sessions and hope that “At the Heart of the Response” will help streamline the changes and improve the situation in EECA and in the world.” – Anna Dovbakh, EHRN executive director and the Chair of one of the sessions at the Conference.

In the context of building constructive dialogue among the participants, the four days of the Conference will see plenary sessions, discussion clubs and workshops that will pay equal attention to the role of harm reduction programs; problems and challenges occurring at various levels of their integration into the social and health care system; main instruments and mechanisms of solving those problems to benefit the communities and society as a whole.

“Thanks to the Conference, officials as well as representatives of civil society and communities will have an equal opportunity to hear and be heard. It’s something of a unique case, as allows to get first-hand information about progress and innovations as well as share experience and knowledge with the global audience. We are looking forward to using it," – says Olga Belyaeva, EHRN project manager and one of the speakers at the plenary of the Conference.

During the Conference, EHRN will present its own projects that reflect the organization's two strategic goals (drug policy reform, and funding and sustainability of harm reduction programs) and seek to influence the development of the PWUD community and civil society:

Anna Dovbakh, EHRN executive director: "Punitive drug policies and women’s rights: Empowering women who use drugs to address violence in Central and Eastern Europe and Central Asia"

Igor Gordon, Head of Membership and Community Strengthening Team of EHRN: "From street to government”: How to use PWUD community-based street lawyers’ testimonies for advocacy on a national level; created by PWUD who are CCM members in EECA countries”.

Ivan Varenstov, Sustainability and Transition Team Advisor at EHRN: “The impact of transition from Global Fund support to governmental funding on the sustainability of harm reduction programs”.

Olga Belyaeva, Manager of Membership and Community Strengthening Team of EHRN, will give a presentation abour region-spcific issues to set global priorities for action at the plenary session of the first day of the Conference.

It’s significant that EHRN’s colleagues and partners from other EECA countries will be present at the International Conference. Among them, Koka Labartkava - Georgian Network of People Who Use Drugs (GeNPUD), the head of "New Vector" NGO; Pavel Skala - Director for Policy and Partnership, Public Health Alliance (Ukraine); Peter Sarosi - Rights Reporter Foundation (Hungary), and others.

EHRN will have an information stand open during all four days of the International Conference – the participants are invited to discussions on budget advocacy for harm reduction (Global Fund supported project "Harm Reduction Works - Fund It!"), drug policy impacts on various groups of society (developed under the European Union-funded  Drug Policy Impact Assessment for Change in Central and Eastern Europe Project), rights and freedoms of PWUD and other projects currently being implemented by the Network.

EHRN would like to express its special gratitude to the Global Fund, the Robert Carr Civil Society Networks Fund, the Open Society Foundations for helping the Network participate in the Conference.

Updates the 25th International Harm Reduction Conference "At the Heart of the Response" and the EHRN delegation’s participation will be published regularly on the Network‘s website and disseminated through social networks.