As a country Serbia is at the crossroads of a number of heroin trafficking routes. It has a significant population of injecting drug users – 20,000 according to the official estimates. Thanks to grants from the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, several harm reduction services were introduced during the first decade of this century. Approximately two thousand people enrolled in opiate substitution programs, and four needle exchange programs provided sterile equipment to injecting drug users. The prevalence of HIV among drug users was low, though access to harm reduction services was far from adequate – the best indicator of risk being the high prevalence of Hepatitis C infections.
The last grant from the Global Fund ended in June 2014. The government made no commitment to continue funding the programs, and there are no other international donors available to step in and cover the harm reduction funding gap. This resulted in closing of all needle and syringe projects except one, which is operated by Association Prevent, in Novi Sad. Three years later, the government has changed but the programs are still out of focus when it comes to national funding!
Representatives of South-Eastern European countries, Serbia being one them, constitute the South East Europe Regional Coordinating Mechanism (RCM). RCM met in Skopje in May this year. The objective of the meeting was to determine key activities and stakeholders that will implement a multi-country grant available from the Global Fund, and opportunities for the RCM to develop its proposal through the end of 2017.The RCM would like to develop a joint understanding of the scope and limitations of Global Fund multi-country grants, as they apply to South East Europe, and to consecutively achieve consensus on developing a project design for a potential multi-country grant from the Global Fund.
What it means for Serbia at this point, and what it will mean for the future of the needle and syringe programs in the country is yet unknown. To find out more, watch the movie “Without Shift” produced by NGO Re Generation, exploring the opinions of different stakeholders on the topic.
Irena Molnar, NGO Re Generation