22-24 May 2019 - Lahojsk, Belarus - UNODC in cooperation with UNAIDS and the Ministry of Internal Affairs of the Republic of Belarus organized a three-day training on the role of law enforcement in HIV prevention, treatment and care: police referral schemes. Training was conducted by Ms. Zhannat Kosmukhamedova, Regional HIV Advisor for Eastern Europe & Central Asia UNODC, and took place on 22-24 May 2019 in Lahojsk, Minsk region of the Republic of Belarus.
This event gathered 29 executives from different regions of Belarus and its capital, representing Department on drug control, Department of corrections and Department on surveillance, the Department for International Cooperation of the Ministry of Interior of Internal Affairs; Minsk oblast and Minsk city narcological dispensaries, as well as drug treatment specialists and psychologists.
Police referral schemes imply special strategies that allow practical interventions in relation to drug use and HIV prevention, treatment and care. With the help of referral schemes people who use drugs can be connected by police to relevant services and receive necessary support. Therefore, establishment of a partnership between police and community-based organizations, providing necessary social and medical services where people who use drugs can be referred to, serves as an important measure to increase access to life saving services. Arrest at the police station of a person who uses drugs can be seen as an opportunity to offer relevant assistance serving as an alternative to incarceration.
The work of UNODC on HIV prevention, treatment, care and support for people who use drugs is aligned with the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) and, in particular, SDG target 3.3 to end the AIDS epidemic by 2030. Also, with the UNAIDS Fast Track Strategy 2016-2020 that urges the need for a 75% reduction of new HIV infections including among people who use drugs by 2020. Previous cooperation between UNODC and the Ministry of Interior in the Republic of Belarus was already established through a pilot project initiated in an area of Soligorsk with a high HIV prevalence among people who use drugs. This project aimed to create effective partnership between law enforcement and community-based organizations, and to improve access to medical and social services for people who use drugs and have problems with law. In accordance to the GFATM evaluation in 2018, it resulted in a best practice example in the EECA region. The programme of the training particularly highlighted the risks and prevention of transmission of HIV and hepatitis in working environment, and an overview of the current epidemiological situation in Belarus. Furthermore, the training informed law enforcement executives about the principles of harm reduction programmes, in the context of evidence and human rights-based HIV prevention and treatment services.
It also emphasized stigma and discrimination as the main barriers for scaling up the lifesaving services among people who use drugs. In addition, the training focused on vulnerability of women who use drugs and gender specific services, the role of law enforcement in the protection of public health, and the importance of continuous work with key populations. Training's participants from different regions of Belarus and its capital received a chance to take part in interactive discussions with the expert from the Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network, Mikhail Golichenko. Together they analysed several leading international measures, serving as alternative measures instead of punishment of people who use drugs.
UNODC training was concluded by a joint initiative to organise a follow up meeting that will enhance further dialogue on the development of effective police referrals schemes and involve community - based organizations and NGOs.