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.
A three day regional training – Promoting Universal Access – HIV/AIDS Treatment, Care, Support and Prevention in Central and Southern Europe took place in the capitol of Romania, Bucharest on 15-18 May 2014. The training was organized by the European AIDS Treatment Group (EATG), and it gathered HIV professionals, HIV activists, people living with HIV, and civil society representatives from countries in the region (Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, Greece, Serbia, Slovenia, and Turkey).
The main topic of the training was HIV treatment literacy – knowing the ARV treatment as one of the tools for achieving better access to treatment. During these three days, guided by experienced trainers and HIV activists, the participants of the training had an opportunity to learn about drugs’ names, classifications and side-effects, new antiretrovirals, how to provide support for people who are starting with ARV treatment, help with treatment adherence, advocacy mechanisms and PEP, PrEP and TasP as prevention tools.
Along with the rigorous training program, the training participants had an opportunity to present the situation in their respective countries, exchange experiences and network.
Representing Serbia and Q-Club were Aleksandar Ivanovic and Rade Kuzmanovic.
Q-Club is implementing a program of voluntarz and confidential counseling and testing for HIV in cooperation with Rainbow Association from Šabac, and as part of the project Reduction of HIV transmission and support for GMT (gay men, men having sex with men and trans*) populations, with the support of the amfAR foundation. So far we have organised night-time testing in front of Gay clubs, outreach actions and field testing as well as scheduled testing with our members and in premisses of the Center for support of GMT people. So far we have tested 124 people, and our testing sessions are often followed with relevant workshops on how to preserve one's own negative HIV status.
We will continue our testing program over May and June. For all information regarding testing you can contact the Center for support of GMT people by phone 063 510 754.
Q-Club started the Initiative for including post exposure prophylaxis in Republic of Serbia on April 14th 2014.
Post exposure prophylaxis (PEP) is a prevention measure that is lacking in Serbia, and it includes use of antiretroviral drugs to prevent HIV (but also HBV and HCV) infection with a person after he or she has already been exposed to virus, either within an unforeseen event (pricked with a potentially infected needle, cut or injury in contact with infected material, condom breaking whilst in sexual contact with an HIV positive person, etc.)
PEP is a prevention measure recommended by the World Health Organization, and it should be a part of all national programs on maintaining public health. PEP cannot replace primary prevention (use of condom, distribution of information, etc.), but availability of PEP could support basic preventive behavior.
Even to experts completely agree on effectiveness of PEP and basic conditions for its application, the healthcare system of Republic of Serbia does not regulate use of post exposure prophylaxis for prevention of HIV, HBV and HCV infections. It has been demonstrated so far that this form of prevention is needed, but occurrences so far were resolved informally and sporadically.
Q-club hence proposes change of the Rulebook on immunization and ways of protection using drugs, as well as change of regulations of the Republic Healthcare Fund that control dispensing of drugs in such a way that doctors can prescribe PEP (treatment) at the expense of the Healthcare Fund when adequate conditions are met. Q-Club also proposes an additional measure of adopting an adequate guideline for application of PEP as a guide for doctors in deciding when to offer and prescribe PEP.
Within this initiative Q-Club contacted the relevant stakeholders – primarily decision makers: Ministry of Health of Republic of Serbia, Republic Healthcare Fund and National Commission for HIV and tuberculosis, as PEP is within their jurisdiction.
Q-Club has also contacted partner organizations of people living with HIV, civil society organizations and relevant institutions to join us in this initiative and support it.
For more information about the initiative and for supporting this initiative please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
You can download the full text of the initiative in Serbian here.