On April 4 – 6, Vilnius, the capital of Lithuania, hosted 389 participants from 45 countries for the First Regional Harm Reduction Conference for Central and Eastern Europe and Central Asia (CEECA) “Harm Reduction in the New Environment”. The participants included 80 representatives of governments and government agencies, 150 members of NGOs and communities, donors, experts and delegates from technical agencies, and international and regional networks.
Referring to the new environment, one of thee major key aspects is a trend toward decreasing international donor funding for harm reduction programs that address HIV, hepatitis C and Tuberculosis in CEECA countries. In spite of the gradual growth of the economies in this region, CEECA countries are not yet ready for sustainable transition from external financing to domestic financing, especially programs focusing on key populations. In this new environment, to achieve necessary changes governments and communities must recognize harm reduction as an integral part of health and social development strategies.
In addition to the issue of funding, other important topics for discussion at the Regional Conference were the role of harm reduction in social and medical assistance to people who use drugs and identifying paths towards effective and humane drug policies.
During the Regional Conference, 140 speakers participated in 23 sessions, and 8 parallel events were organized. The participants displayed attention to and interest in issues that had not been previously highlighted in the course of the Network's projects, such as access to harm reduction for young people and to the emergence of new drugs.
EHRN is hoping that as a long-term result of the conference “Harm Reduction in the New Environment”, people who use drugs, representatives of government, social and healthcare services and agencies, donors and technical partners will work together to improve the quality and ensure sustainability of harm reduction services in the new environment characterized by transitioning toward domestic funding, as well as to address the new drug policy tasks and public health needs, including the capacity of these programs to withstand repressive drug policies to benefit the community and society at large.
“The Conference became a real message of harm reduction in CEECA to everybody in this world,” – said Anke Van Dam, Executive Director of AIDS Foundation East West (AFEW International). Her words were echoed by Rick Lines, Executive Director of Harm Reduction International (HRI): “Harm Reduction is one big family. This conference is a real reunion of our family, making people from across the world come here. Our work is hard. But it inspires us to do more and to do important things. It's important to remember that.”
“I can't recall such as friendly, emotional conference. Thank you for accepting our invitation to look at the path we have travelled together, analyze what we have achieved and assess how the new environment can shape our future – the future of harm reduction. Until we meet again, hopefully soon!” – said Anna Dovbakh, EHRN Executive Director at the closing of the Regional Conference.
EHRN expresses its deepest gratitude to all the participants, members of the International Organizing Committee and long-term partners of our Network for your support and tremendous input in the development of the conference agenda: the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, Joint UN Programme on AIDS, World Health Organisation, UN Office on Drugs and Crime, Office of the Special Rapporteur of the UN General Secretary on HIV/AIDS in Eastern Europe and Central Asia, Open Society Foundations, Harm Reduction International, AIDS Foundation East West, Eurasian Network of People Who Use Drugs, Department of Drug, Tobacco and Alcohol Control at the Government of Lithuania, NGO Coalition “I Can Live” and the Eurasian Harm Reduction Network Steering Committee.
The Regional Conference “Harm Reduction in the New Environment” was organized by the Eurasian Harm Reduction Network in the framework of the Regional Program “Harm Reduction Works – Fund It!” with support from the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria.