What influenced your decision to become involved with the newly formed Joint Action on HIV and Co-Infection Prevention and Harm Reduction (HA-REACT)?
Our participation in the HA-REACT Joint Action gives us an opportunity to work in a wide European context and contribute to a deeper understanding of the focus issues
The National AIDS Centre (NAC), along with select Polish NGOs, actively participated in an earlier European Commission project on HIV community-based testing practices in Europe, COBATEST (2010-2013). Our participation in the HA-REACT Joint Action gives us an opportunity to work in a wide European context and contribute to a deeper understanding of the focus issues.
We became aware that the long-standing Polish experience of providing antiretroviral therapy (ART) for incarcerated populations who are HIV-positive, as well as the practice of providing opioid substitution therapy (OST) in all penitentiary units can be considered a model to be implemented in other contexts.
Poland was also among the first countries in Central and Eastern Europe to offer free-of-charge access to diagnostics, ART and care for people living with HIV. The national mechanisms of sustainably financing ART can serve as a good practice model.
How do you see your role in the work of the Joint Action?
The National AIDS Centre participates in two work packages: WP6 (Harm reduction and continuity of care in prisons) and WP8 (Sustainability and long-term funding). Within WP6, NAC leads two important activities concerning capacity building as well as training for implementation of effective OST programs and other harm reduction (HR) activities in penitentiary institutions. Workshops for European prison management officials, physicians and staff will be based on train-the-trainer solutions in order to make results sustainable in the long-term.
Within WP8, NAC leads the development of the online survey designed to determine the current level of implementation of harm reduction strategies in the 28 EU Member States with regard to the availability, accessibility, acceptability, and sustainability of prevention services as well as linkage to care related to HIV, HCV and TB among people who inject drugs (PWID) – all from the point of view of non-governmental organizations.
From your perspective, why focus on HIV, TB and viral hepatitis in Europe?
HIV, TB and viral hepatitis remain significant health threats across Europe. HA-REACT affords more possibilities to fulfill the task of improving implementation of prevention measures; we already know that another neglected area is the coordinated harm reduction approach across Europe.
We believe that by means of hard scientific evidence and sharing good practice strategies it will be possible to convince key decision makers to invest and develop harm reduction in their territories on a larger scale
Differences in the levels of development and implementation of harm reduction strategies vary significantly across the EU and areas where implementation of harm reduction and prevention is inadequate are mostly determined by a lack of political will and deeply rooted stigma. Here in Poland we believe that by means of hard scientific evidence and sharing good practice strategies it will be possible to convince key decision makers to invest and develop harm reduction in their territories on a larger scale. Success stories from Finland and Spain, for example, have been very inspiring and have encouraged us to advocate further for harm reduction.
What can we expect as a result of your HA-REACT work?
HA-REACT has its official goals and expected results. But for us, who have been involved in the project preparation from the outset, and now in its implementation, most important is networking and close collaboration with our project partners. It is impressive to see activists and professionals from all around Europe speak with the same voice on issues connected with the improvement of the level of health of vulnerable populations.
We seek to provide countries with practical, easy-to-use, capacity building tools to strengthen their efforts in HIV and co-infection prevention and harm reduction
What does the project hope to achieve over the next 3 years?
We will collect evidence and build on outcomes of previous EU projects. We hope to develop achievable recommendations for the HA-REACT focus countries as well as other EU Member States. And we seek to provide countries with practical, easy-to-use, capacity building tools to strengthen their efforts in HIV and co-infection prevention and harm reduction.
The Joint Action aims to contribute to the elimination of HIV and reduction of TB and viral hepatitis among PWID in the EU by 2020 and focuses on member states with gaps in effective and evidence-informed interventions. The project also encourages the implementation of comprehensive harm reduction programs in all EU member states as an essential strategy for improving the prevention and treatment of HIV, TB and viral hepatitis. Further information about HA-REACT is available at: www.hareact.eu
Hepatology, Medicine and Policy is now accepting submissions on this and related issues. For more information, visit: www.hmap.biomedcentral.com.