EHRN Strategy for 2015-2019: time to mobilize for change!

EHRN’s Steering Committee (SС) approved EHRN’s new Strategy 2015-2019 during its meeting in Vilnius on April 2, 2015.

EHRN’s previous Strategy expired at the end of 2014. Thus, EHRN members, Steering Committee and regional and international partners undertook rigorous analysis of EHRN’s performance in implementing our Strategy in 2010-2014 and developed a new Strategy for 2015-2019. The results of the strategic planning process clearly indicate that we, as harm reduction sector, must mobilize to prepare for and be able to adequately respond to considerable shifts in policy and funding landscape in the region. 

Harm reduction is facing hard times now in our region. The political opposition to and insufficient funding of both harm reduction services and advocacy have had negative consequences for the lives of the 3.3 million injecting drug users living in CEECA. Despite increasing income levels and increase in the number of middle and upper-middle-income countries in the region, most of them still require financial support from international donors – the challenge is that these resources are becoming progressively unavailable for the region.

"EU member states as well as candidate countries are currently facing a critical situation with harm reduction: the recent closure of HR programs in Hungary and Romania as well as inevitable reduction and closure of programs in Serbia after the end of the Global Fund’s grant are the indication of lacking political will to fund programs for PWUD regardless of the income level in a country,“ says Peter Sarosi,  Drug Policy Program Director at Hungarian Civil Liberties Union, EHRN Steering Committee Co-chair.

Despite formal commitments to humane drug policy principles,  many countries in the region have failed to treat drug use as a public health issue. Some countries, in fact, regressed back to more repressive rhetoric directed at PWUD. As a result of repressive drug policies and lack of national funding for harm reduction programs, PWUD living in the region experience legal pressures and barriers when accessing healthcare services. This, in turn, leads to more infections, higher mortality rates and continued imprisonment of more and more PWUD.

The need to address these challenges lies at the core of EHRN’s Strategy for 2015-2019, which was finalized on April 2, 2015, during the meeting of EHRN’s Steering Committee in Vilnius. The SC reviewed and approved EHRN’s Strategy for 2015-2019 and decided on the process of the Strategy implementation (including a new monitoring and evaluation system). Importantly, the SC discussed how EHRN members can benefit and contribute to the new Strategy implementation and engage in the Network’s activities.

In the coming years, one of the key strategic tasks for the region’s harm reduction programs and EHRN will be finding solutions to ensure sustainability of the programs and gradual, responsible transition towards funding of harm reduction from alternative sources, including state and municipal programs and budgets. Within EHRN’s Strategy for 2015-2019, we will focus our activities on strengthening advocacy and on support to the Network members’ efforts in ensuring a responsible transition from donor funding of harm reduction programs towards their funding from state and municipal budgets.

Institutional sustainability of harm reduction in the region depends on the reform of repressive drug policies and law enforcement practices that would result in drug use being addressed as a public health issue, not a criminal justice issue.

“EHRN will work to convince donors to graduate countries in CEECA responsibly and to engage in negotiations with government agencies and civil society in the region in order to agree on acceptable terms and timelines of transition to funding of harm reduction from state and municipal budgets and programs”, says Sergey Votyagov, Executive Director at EHRN.

For EHRN, our members and allies to tackle the funding and policy challenges and to timely prepare for the imminent changes, we must mobilize and join forces in strengthening our advocacy for enabling non-repressive drug policies and financial sustainability of harm reduction programs. As we embark on the next 5 years of Strategy 2015-2019, the Network must mobilize for change!

It is important for the Network to mobilize representatives of government agencies, donors and civil society to address the issue of political opposition and lack of funding for harm reduction programs in the region.

Nino Tsereteli, Executive Director at the Center for Information and Counseling on Reproductive Health – Tanadgoma, Georgia, EHRN Steering Committee Co-chair.