Oct 27, 2015

Seeking justice for drug users in Moscow

Initially the text beow was prepared upon a request from one UN agency (we were asked not to name it) for their report on HIV and Human Rights issues. But for some reason at the last moment they refused to include our case in their report. So we would like to publish it here as this work was also done with the use of those funds received from our supporters through the Global Giving platform. 

Russia is home to 69% of all people living with HIV in Eastern Europe and Central Asia, and its HIV epidemic is concentrated among people who inject drugs. In Moscow alone there were more than 30,000 people who use drugs registered with the drug treatment specialists in public clinics in 2013, and the total number of people who use drugs in the city is likely to be higher.

In addition to being at highest risk of HIV in Russia, people who inject drugs are among the most marginalized and stigmatized populations in the country. Criminalization of drug use, quota-based law enforcement and low availability of opioid substitution therapy are major barriers to harm reduction.

Activists in Moscow allege that people who use drugs are frequently denied their rights. An initiative by the Andrey Rylkov Foundation (ARF), a non-governmental organization working in Moscow since 2009, is providing legal support to people who use drugs and seeking justice through the legal system. In late 2013, the Foundation’s Harm Reduction – Moscow Project with support of the Canadian AIDS Legal Network launched a ‘street lawyer’ initiative, which links those who need legal aid with a social workers and a legal advisers. Services include rights counselling, mediation, filing of official requests or complaints to medical practitioners or government offices, and resolution of cases through the justice system. In addition to legal support, the project gives clients moral support and boosts confidence in their ability to access legal recourse. The Foundation also provides expert witness testimony in court and advocates for changes to Russia’s drug policy.

Before the legal support was taken to the streets, few people who use drugs attempted to defend their civil, social and economic rights within the justice system. Today people approach the street lawyers on the street, call the hotline, write and ask through friends.  In the space of a year, the project has supported 15 legal cases, including one that exhausted all domestic legal remedies and has been filed with the European Court of Human Rights.

One example of this ARF work related to a drug-using woman living with HIV who was refused dental treatment at a government-funded clinic. Marina had to visit a doctor to get a surgical dental treatment. For that reason she went to the governmental dental clinic. But when Marina informed the dentist that she was HIV positive he refused to provide her medical help. Marina went to another dentist at this clinic, who told her she will provide her with medical assistance but only after all the other patients. In Marina’s opinion, such an attitude of dentists was discriminating and illegal. That is why she approached ARF and asked us to help her to protect her rights.  Social workers helped her to prepare and submit the compliance to the head of this clinic. The compliance included a description of the situation and a request to take relevant measures to educate the staff personal on HIV\AIDS issues and also to prevent further discrimination of people living with HIV in this governmental health care facility. As a result the head of the clinic responded to Marina, apologized to her and informed that he will not allow discrimination of people leaving with HIV in his clinic anymore. Marina got a required medical assistance and cured her teeth.

Moscow’s drug users can also receive anonymous legal advice from the Hand-Help.ru, website. This virtual legal aid service promotes the legal literacy of people who use drugs and facilitates their self-representation in court when they are prosecuted. In addition to the online consultations, the users can access a regularly updating database of juridical acts, examples of cases involving drugs, legislative comments and analysis. The website is the go-to source of information on human rights issues related to drug use, receiving 3000 hits per day. The site’s administrators answer an average of 180 questions per month. Questions that have been answered previously are archived into thematic sections, available for perusal of any site visitor. The site’s main legal consultant has filed 19 drug related rights complaints to the European Court of Human Rights since April 2012.

Jun 19, 2015

Our work featured by the international media

Clean needles save lives!
Clean needles save lives!

Dear supporters!!

we are happy to share with you several pieces that featured ARF work with drug users in Moscow. 

First of all, a very short but right on the point video by AFP where you can see our outreach work near one of the pharmacies and see some of our participants! AFP VIDEO REPORT 

And also, a full story to accompany this video: 

Activists struggle in fight with Russian AIDS epidemic

Moscow (AFP) - Waiting with his rucksack full of clean syringes by a pharmacy in the Moscow suburbs, Maxim Malyshev is fighting a lonely battle on the frontline of Russia's spiralling AIDS epidemic.

great piece in the Guardian  tells a story of our work with drug users and also describes the catastrophic situation with the AIDS epidemic in Russia and the government neglect, both of which we try to battle! 

"The official count of Russians living with HIV has risen to 930,000 from 500,000 in 2010, and the actual number is probably much higher. (Of those registered, some 192,000 have already died.)

The lack of outreach has driven organisations such as the Rylkov Foundation to hit the streets for guerrilla harm-reduction work. Five evenings a week, part-time employees like Remnyova and Sosnina stand near pharmacies selling tropicamide over the counter, mostly in the outlying districts of the city, where the drug problem is most acute. Besides clean needles and bandages, they hand out HIV and hepatitis tests, the organisation’s newspaper and other HIV prevention literature, and naloxone, a drug that can be injected to help reverse an overdose."

And one more piece, by the BBC: Fighting HIV where no-one admits it's a problem interviews some of the Russian officials in order to understand the roots of political resistanse to effective HIV prevention work and also describes our work. For some reasons, all the journalists seem to be very impressed with our rucksacks!! :)  

We are very glad that top international media pays so much attention to our work and we hope it will help to spread international awareness of the situation with the AIDS epidemic in Russia as well as importance of harm reduction approach, based on respect and protection of health, dignity and human rights.

We would love if you could spread those reports among your friends and colleagues, and maybe they would also like to contribute to our work - as it is clear from these stories that we can hardly expect much support from own government in the nearest future! Please spread the word and help us keep up our "guerrilla harm-reduction work"! ;) 






May 1, 2015

Annual Report about our harm reduction work

Saving lives with naloxone!
Saving lives with naloxone!

Dear friends! 

We would like to thank you heartly for your generous support of our work - thanks to your donations we were able to sustain our work during a difficult period of the funding gap and further through the year. We were not able to get enough money to buy a mobile van, but at least we have bought very large backpacks for 10 of our 20 outreach workers and volunteers, and it will allow us to carry more materials and brochures to provide to our participants!

we would like to share our annual report for the last year with you - please read about our challenging work on the  streets of Moscow!


Heres some highlights in figures:

- Total number of contacts: 2,376 Incl. contacts with women: 624

- First-time contacts: 982 First-time contacts with women: 253

- Distributed syringes: 70,970 Needles: 10,243

- Condoms: 3,369

- Distributed naloxone: 2,062

At least Two Hundred Twenty Three Lives Saved with Naloxone! 

- HIV tests / of them positive: 35 / 14

- Hepatitis tests / of them positive: 20 / 15

- Advice on drug treatment: 117

– Advice on HIV and hepatitis prevention and treatment: 77

- Advice on post-injection complications: 231

- Advice on overdose prevention: 294

In the report you will read about our exciting project Street Lawyers - bringing legal aid to the streets of Moscow and about our newspaper for drug users "Shlyapa i Bayan", about our great team and community work and actions to clean the streets of Moscow from syringes. You will also learn about our new initiative of helping the families of drug users to take care of their kids - organizing events and celebrations for them. We hope you will be glad that despite financial difficulties last year, our work continues and expands, to the new people and new areas !   Thank you once again for your support and solidarity! 

Our case manager Lena at an outreach location
Our case manager Lena at an outreach location
The magic of Naloxone!
The magic of Naloxone!
Better health is not so difficult!
Better health is not so difficult!
Providing information on Hepatitis C
Providing information on Hepatitis C

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