HIV/AIDS activists from Serbia took part in a study-visit to the Czech Republic in order to learn about the Czech response to HIV. This study-visit was organised by the UNDP and it took place from 16th to 21st of June 2014.
Within this study-visit, the participants could learn about various programs in Prague and other cities. Of particular interest were the visits to the Infectious Disease Clinic at the Bulovka teaching hospital, which is the leading healthcare institution working with HIV/AIDS since 1986, and the Prague Lighthouse (Dům světla). The Lighthouse was founded in August 1999 with the intention of helping everyone affected by HIV/AIDS – patients as well as their families and friends. They are the largest non-government and not for profit HIV testing centre, but they also provide accommodation and social services to all their beneficiaries. Significant segment of Lighthouse’s activities include fighting stigma and discrimination.
The Czech Republic and Serbia have a very similar epidemiological situation and both countries have had some good and some bad experiences. For example, VCT counselling was cancelled in the Czech Republic, which led to a significant decrease of HIV testing uptake. The non-government sector took over testing with occasional participation of medical experts, and there is insufficient attention given to training counsellors for VCCT. A significant advantage in the Czech Republic was support the government has provided for the work of NGOs. Also HIV education has been systematically implemented within the education system (155,000 children were included in the “Playing to fight AIDS”)
There were 13 participants from Serbia in this study visit. Representing Q-Club was Nikola Latković.
Nada Micic, president of Q Club gave an interview to INOVIA magazine, which deals with medical and pharmaceutical topics, about the importance of testing and early diagnosis of HIV infection. The entire interview (in Serbian!) can be read by following the link:
Overcoming Obstacles to Testing meeting of the Network of HIV low prevalence countries of Central and South East Europe (NeLP OOTT) took place in Sarajevo from 6th to 8th of June 2014. The meeting was organized by Q-Club on behalf of NeLP and with support of International HIV Partnerships and ViiV Healthcare.
The meeting gathered 15 experts and activists from the field of HIV testing from 14 countries of the NeLP region, Albania, Austria, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Croatia, Czech Republic, Greece, Hungary, Macedonia, Montenegro, Slovenia, Serbia and Turkey. The main topic of the meeting were obstacles to HIV testing in the region, as countries in the NeLP region have some of the lowest levels of HIV testing uptake, so identifying those obstacles and taking appropriate action is a burning priority. The activist did just that, but after identifying the most prevalent obstacles, they identified appropriate possible solutions for many of them, and even developed an action plan on what NeLP can do and what NeLP do within 2014. The action planning for 2014 was very strongly linked with European Testing Week 2014 which will this year be from 21st to 28th of November.
The meeting was a start of the OOTT committee of NeLP which will continue to work on overcoming the defined obstacles and define solutions; but the meeting was a start of local task forces which will further work on implementation of those solutions, where applicable, on the local and regional level.
You can see a video presenting the OOTT meeting here.
As part of the ongoing activities to advocate for improved quality of life of people living with HIV, Q-club took the next step in the effort for de-criminalisation of HIV. Q-club prepared a proposal for changing the article 250. of the Criminal Code of Republic of Serbia pertaining to unintentional transmission of HIV. We propose that within the changes and amendments of the Crinimal Code the above mentioned article be abolished or changed in such a way to de-criminalize unintentional transmission of HIV, i.e. which would abolish criminal penalties for it, and replace them with non-criminal punishment.
Growing body of evidence shows that criminalization of not declaring one's own HIV status, and potential exposure to risk of transmission, and exposure and unintentional transmission of HIV, did more damage than benefit for the public health and human rights. Better alternative for use of the Penal code are measurements for development of a supporting environment which would enable people to seek HIV testing, support and timely treatment, and feel free to declare their HIV status. The HIV pandemic is guided by the lack of diagnosing HIV infections, and not by people unaware of their HIV positive status. Nor our legal system nor our media are currently equipped well enough to deal with HIV related criminal proceedings, and the authorities should provide adequate training about HIV for the police, prosecutors, lawyers, judges, jury and the media.
Although the Criminal Code may play a limited role in seldom cases when people transmit HIV with malicious intent, we think that it is better to support and empower people living with HIV, from the very moment of establishing their diagnoses, so that even these seldom cases can be prevented. Instead of penalizing policy and criminal approach, HIV preventions needs a society based approach, where expertise and understanding of HIV will be of paramount importance. The existing criminal decrees relating specifically to HIV should be abolished in accordance with recommendations of UNAIDS.
Q-Club has sent the mention proposal to three key addresses in the Assembly of Serbia:
· The Committee on Constitutional and Legislative Issues
· The Committee on Human and Minority Rights
· The Health and Family Committee
We were very pleased to see that this very topic was raised at the National Assembly Meeting of Republic of Serbia as part of the discussion on Laws of Justice. This talk can be found on https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1AgiPfrTlRc
This initiative was supported by the amfAR foundation.