The Third Eastern Europe and Central Asia AIDS Conference

30 Oct 2009

Voices of people living with HIV sound out on urgent issues: UNDP supports community dialogue at the Besedka

Moscow – Open to everyone throughout the Third Eastern Europe and Central Asia AIDS Conference, the Besedka Community Dialogue Space brought together community leaders from across the region whose work at the grass-roots level is leading to breakthroughs in the response to HIV.

The region of Eastern Europe and the CIS remains one of the few areas in the world where HIV prevalence continues to rise: from an estimated 630,000 people living with the virus in 2001 to 1.5 million as of 2007 – a 140 percent increase. Nearly 90 percent of newly reported HIV cases in the region are from the Russian Federation and Ukraine. In Central Asia and the Caucasus, the number of newly reported HIV diagnoses is also rising rapidly, with the highest incidence rate found in Uzbekistan. The main driving force of the epidemic in the region is injecting drug use.
 
According to Michel Sidibe, UNAIDS Executive Director,”the epidemic in the region will not be stopped until the HIV-community starts playing a central role in the response and is able to shape the national and international dialogue on the best response.  

The “Besedka“ programme was designed by community representatives to provide space for deeper exploration of conventional issues such as harm reduction programmes, HIV prevention, treatment and care and remaining gaps in HIV and public health policies in the region, as well as emerging ones such as discordant couples, adoption and whether or not to disclose HIV-positive status, which are rarely addressed in large conferences. People living with HIV, drug users, men who have sex with men (MSM) and many other people who are not always ready to speak out at such fora discussed a wide range of topics not only with colleagues from other countries, but also with leading policymakers such as Michele Sidebe, UNAIDS Executive Director, Michele Kazachkine, The Global Fund Executive Director, and Gennady Onishchenko, Head of the Federal Service for Supervision of Consumer Rights Protection and Human Welfare.

"The Besedka brings a unique and highly-valued dimension to the overall experience of the EECAAC, which has brought to Moscow more than 2,500 people from 60 countries, primarily from the Eastern Europe and Central Asia,” says Anastasia Kamlyk, Besedka Coordinator for the United Nations Development Programme. “Critical issues that don’t always receive enough attention in the main conference are addressed in a completely interactive, open and informal manner at Besedka.”

Addressing cuts in harm reduction and prevention work in some countries of the region, Global Fund Executive Director Michele Kazachkine urged civil society to take a more prominent role in the response. “Your advocacy can change a lot. And please don’t underestimate your strength and your influence,” he said. “We already feel it here, at the conference. Everything is in your hands.” 

The Russian Federation’s Gennady Onishchenko noted that the government needs the help of the HIV community in ensuring adherence to treatment programmes.

Much of the region lacks a decades-long legacy of active civil society representation found elsewhere and AIDS organizations are amongst the groups at the forefront of promoting  dialogue in the region. In order to truly reverse the region’s epidemic, civil society will have to partner with international organizations.

“It is not always about money,” Shombi Sharp, Team Leader, UNDP HIV/AIDS Regional Programme, “it is also about facilitation, strengthening their capacity to express themselves and to advocate for their rights and at some point to become a real force for change.”

The community dialogue space is organized with the support of UNDP, UNAIDS, The Global Fund to fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, the Eastern European and Central Asian Network of People Living with HIV and AIDS and the US NIH Office of AIDS Research.

Contact Information

UNDP Moscow
Ms. Snizhana Kolomiiets
Tel: + +7 495 7874947
Cell: + 7 916 1079416
Snizhana.kolomiiets@undp.org