Final conference of UNODC project on HIV prevention in the Baltic States
The main achievements of UNODC project "HIV prevention and care among injecting drug users and in prison settings in Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania" were presented during the final conference that took place on 24 and 25 March 2011 in Riga, Latvia. The event was attended by two hundred participants representing policy makers, public health experts, HIV prevention service providers and civil society organizations from the Baltic States and other European countries.
Over the last four years UNODC has helped to build national consensus on effective implementation strategies to address HIV among injecting drug users (IDUs). Harm reduction is included in the national HIV strategies for Latvia and Estonia. Access to essential HIV prevention services like needle and syringe programmes (NSP) and pharmacological treatment of opioid dependence has improved significantly. New NSPs have been opened and the number of clients has increased after introduction of new approaches like peer driven interventions and outreach work. The number of sites providing pharmacotherapy with methadone has increased from 12 to 21 in Lithuania and from 1 to 10 in Latvia. Methadone therapy is continued in police detention centres in Lithuania and Estonia, and as of 2010 it is available in all prisons in Estonia. The project has also facilitated integration of drug dependence treatment with tuberculosis and HIV treatment services. In all three countries funding for methadone therapy is provided from the national health budgets. Despite severe budget and staff cuts due to economic crisis, harm reduction education has been introduced in more than a half of Latvian prisons. The project has developed a number of training modules and information materials, and nearly 4000 people have participated in various capacity building events. UNODC has facilitated greater involvement of criminal justice sector in the national response to HIV and strengthened partnerships with civil society organizations. Although a considerable progress has been made in scaling up HIV prevention services for IDUs, the coverage still remains insufficient. UNODC Regional Project Coordinator Ms. Signe Rotberga thanked all partners for successful cooperation and urged to continue scaling up essential HIV prevention services like needle and syringe programmes, pharmacotherapy with methadone and HIV testing and treatment for drug users.
Independent expert Bertrand Redonnet presented results of the final project evaluation. Evaluation concluded that the foreseen objectives have been achieved and outputs under these objectives have been delivered.
In his opening address Mr. Rinalds Muciņš, State Secretary of the Latvian Ministry of Health reaffirmed commitment to support activities started during the project. Discussion about sustainability of the project results showed that the Government of Estonia will continue support for harm reduction services and involvement of civil society organizations. In the national HIV programme sufficient funding has been allocated for HIV prevention and treatment for the key risk group - injecting drug users. Despite the increasing HIV prevalence among IDUs and in the prisons of Lithuania, future support for evidence informed HIV prevention in the prisons of this country remains unclear.
In addition to presenting achievements in the Baltic States, the conference also paid attention to good practice in other European countries: naloxone distribution for prevention of heroine overdose, integration of methadone therapy into primary health care and police work with drug users.
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