From Street to Government: HIV response through civil society strengthening. Activity Report, January-August 2016

In 2014, 51% of new HIV infections in Eastern Europe and Central Asia (EECA) were among people who use drugs (PWUD). 

The need for affordable sterile equipment and condoms is clear. What is also important is – a favourable environment to ensure that those in need have access to prevention and treatment services. An EHRN project implemented with the Eurasian Network of People who Use Drugs (ENPUD) and other partners aims at ensuring this through practical activities, which involve community representatives.

A three-year project, financed by the Robert Carr civil society Networks Fund, was started in January this year. Its overall goal is to lower the HIV transmission among people who use drugs by promoting harm reduction, human rights and supportive policy environments. The project covers eight EHRN members’ countries: Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan, Georgia, Ukraine, Belarus, Moldova, and Russia. The project complements the existing Street Lawyers program in some of the countries.

Summary of the results achieved since the launch of the Project (January-August 2016):

  1. Two ENPUD program coordinators were recruited – one community mobilization coordinator and one communication coordinator to support street lawyers in their work;
  2. Street lawyers in 7 countries received 10 small grants to support their mobilization and advocacy activities;
  3. Seven PWUD community representatives in Country Coordination Mechanism (CCM) were recruited to support street lawyers in their work;
  4. 13 street lawyers and 7 CCM members participated in a three-day training. After completing the course, the trained street lawyers have collected 86 cases (mostly video cases) on the issue of criminalization of drug use and accessing PWUD to pain relief and drug treatment in hospitals and rehabilitation centres. These issues were selected as priorities for advocacy in EECA region;
  5. Video cases were used in PWUD community advocacy aiming at bringing this problem to government representatives. As the result of their advocacy efforts, it was agreed that all the cases will be discussed in more detail at CCM and other relevant committee meetings. (Please, follow the link for more information on results achieved: https://youtu.be/Y3q-30Dg63w);
  6. Two ENPUD program coordinators took part in the internship at the EHRN office in Vilnius.

Next steps

  • Create on-line interactive training “Who a street lawyer is and how to become one” which is a part of the EHRN’s interactive training module on police violence: http://learn.hrea.org/EHRN/EHRN-Full-ENG/story.html;
  • Analyze street lawyers’ cases and prepare two policy briefs with the purpose of engaging PWUD community activists and NGOs working in HIV prevention among key affected population into advocacy for changing repressive drug policy, which is known to be a key factor of the growth of HIV epidemic, with the emphasis on human rights of people who use drugs at the global, regional, and national levels;
  • Conduct face-to-face meeting of CCM members and street lawyers to develop a regional advocacy plan “From government to street” 2017-2018. This plan will be aimed at joining efforts in monitoring governments’ compliance with commitments related to ensuring human right and provision of universal access to health care services.

Lessons and innovations

  • Collecting evidence of violations of human rights turned out to be more difficult than expected. Skills required to implement that kind of activity needed to be developed though participating in trainings, peer-to peer experience exchange and mentoring;
  • Community leaders' influence at the national level is still critically insufficient to make a difference;
  • There should be an opportunity for PWUD community leaders to build a partnership with experts from medical community, such as narcologists;
  • Increase visibility of successful collaboration with government and police officials in terms of fighting human rights violations.

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