Regional AIDS seminar "Universal access to HIV prevention and care by 2010: can we achieve it in the Baltic States?"
UNODC Project Office for the Baltic States organized 2-days regional AIDS seminar "Universal Access to HIV Prevention and Care by 2010: Can we achieve it in the Baltic States?", which was held in Riga from 29 to 30 January, 2009. The seminar was attended by more than 80 participants from the ministries, governmental agencies, municipal institutions, prisons and non-governmental organizations from Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia.
The main objectives of the seminar were to exchange information about results achieved in each of the project countries, to present and discuss the recommendations of the mid-term evaluation of the project, as well as to discuss priorities for 2009 - 2010. The seminar also addressed the issues of sustainability of project results and the current challanges for HIV response.
Mr. Rinalds Muciņš, Deputy Secretary of the Ministry of Health of the Republic of Latvia, and Mr. Cornelis Groeneveld, Counsellor/Deputy Head of the Mission at the Embassy of the Kingdom of the Netherlands, opened the seminar with some welcoming words.
Ms. Signe Rotberga continued with presenting the main achievements of UNODC project in 2007/2008 in all three Baltic States. A panel discussion followed at which Ms. Merilin Maesalu, HIV/AIDS Specialist from Estonian Ministry of Social Affairs, Ms. Rima Vaitkiene, Secretary of the Lithuanian Ministry of Health, and two representatives from the Latvian Ministry of Health - Mr. Rinalds Muciņš, and Ms. Gunta Grīsle spoke about the main challenges to achieve universal access to HIV prevention and care, mainly stressing the difficult economic situation and low public awareness about HIV/AIDS issues. It was agreed that due to current funding constraints it is very important to assess effectiveness of HIV prevention and treatment activities and to set priorities for national response to HIV.
After the panel discussion, participants had the opportunity to get deeper insight into one of three topics: (1) Improvement of HIV prevention and care in prisons; (2) Access to pharmacotherapy of opioid dependence and (3) Access to needle and syringe programmes in communities. In each session experts from Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania presented an overview of the situation in their country. The participants exchanged information about the recent trends and achievements in each area as well as discussed the remaining gaps and problems.
The first day of the seminar ended with a presentation of the Health and Development Consultant Mr. Roger Drew "Findings of mid-term evaluation of UNODC project" followed by discussions on the proposed recommendations. It was concluded that a significant progress has been made to achieve the project objectives: growing consensus on importance of harm reduction approaches, increased coverage of HIV prevention services as well as increased availability of strategic information. In the future particular attention should be paid to ensuring sustainability of activities initiated by UNODC. The participants also agreed to improve monitoring of the coverage of services and to establish a relevant monitoring and evaluation framework for the project.
During the second day of the seminar interesting findings of several surveys done in all three Baltic States were delivered by Ms. Anda Karnīte from Latvian Public Health Agency, Ms. Loreta Stoniene from Lithuanian AIDS centre, Ms. Leonora Bebere from Iļģuciema prison in Latvia and Mr. Gintaras Kežys from Marijampole Correction House in Lithuania. Afterwards Ms. Iveta Ķelle from Latvia's Association for Family Planning and Sexual Health "Papardes zieds" highlighted importance of raising awareness among law enforcement professionals and presented newly published handbook on risk reduction for drug users in prison.
The seminar was closed with discussions in country groups on priorities for the UNODC project in 2009/2010 followed by a summary of the main results of the meeting. Many participants expressed great appreciation for the professional and constructive discussions during the seminar and wished that UNODC continued the project in Baltic States for more than the next two years.
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