The European Harm Reduction Conference has been held since 2011 and is one of the largest events in this area for representatives of civil society, communities of key groups, the medical staff, politicians, researchers and the media.

Marseille (2011), Basel and Amsterdam (2014), Bucharest (2018) have hosted the conference in the past. This year, the 5th European Harm Reduction Conference (#EHRC2021) by Correlation European Harm Reduction Network in close cooperation with the Eurasian Harm Reduction Association and the Czech organization SANANIM in Prague.

The Conference serves as a certain hub with the purpose to exchange experiences and different points of view on harm reduction, social inclusion and related topics, and is a platform for interaction at both the national and regional levels. From November 10 to 12, participants were presented with the latest research and development in the field of harm reduction, best innovative practices and achievements of global drug policy, as well as its impact on people who use drugs and other marginalized groups such as sex workers and people living with HIV.

At #EHRC2021, the Ukrainian delegation included representatives of Alliance for Public Health, the #SoS_project, other civil society organizations, as well as members of the government and the community of people who use drugs from several cities, making it the largest after the Czech one. Ahead of the Conference, the team took part in a workshop on HIV prevention, treatment and care among people who use stimulant drugs, organized by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), which aimed to increase the knowledge and capacity of participants, as well as developing effective strategies to ensure that people who use stimulant drugs have access to HIV services. Maria Malakhova, Alliance for Public Health: “Participation in this workshop was very useful. We managed to agree with the leading Czech organization in the field of harm reduction SANANIM on further cooperation and a study tour of stakeholders from Ukraine to the Czech Republic to learn more about the experience of this country and use it for a pilot project on substitution therapy for stimulants users in our country, which is planned under the next regional grant for 2022-2024 “.

The first day of the Conference was held in the context of establishing cooperation between Fast Track Cities partners and the UNITE Global Parliamentarians Network to End Infectious Diseases, which brings together current and former government officials, incl. Senates and Congresses, the European Parliament and other regional and international legislatures and operates in 75 countries around the world. The meeting was attended by Ricardo Baptista Leite, founder and president of the Global Network, MP of Portugal, Mariam Jashi, former MP of Georgia, representatives of UNODC, WHO, Alliance of Public Health, deputies of the Odessa City Council, Kyiv City Council, Vice-Mayor of Chisinau and Deputy Minister health care of Bosnia and Herzegovina. Discussions included potential collaboration between the participants, improving urban performance, and sharing best practices of municipalities in promoting harm reduction and drug policy change, with the aim of maintaining global health as a priority. “Alliance has been implementing Fast Track Cities approach since 2017. As per now, we’ve been fast tracking municipal responses in 30 cities in the EECA region by helping cities to develop municipal HIV programs aiming 95-95-95, to advocate for municipal funding allocation for KPs and to implement innovative and successful interventions.” – shared Ievgen Kushnir, Alliance for Public Health.

The role of cities and local governments in addressing public health, safety and social cohesion was highlighted in the plenary session “Fast track cities on harm reduction – local interventions make the difference” during the Conference, supported by the Alliance for Public Health.

As noted by Pavel Bem, ex-mayor of Prague and member of the Global Commission on Drug Policy: “Local authorities have a crucial role in addressing public health, urban security and social cohesion. They are at the forefront of reducing harm and implementing inclusive measures to tackle the unintended consequences of drug use for the individual and the public. At the same time, cities operate in the legal and social framework of national policies and facing contextual challenges such as economic downfalls, migration or the struggles with a global pandemics like HIV and COVID. Our goal is to discuss experiences, problems and solutions with leading experts and local authorities for mutual learning and exchange.” He was also supported by Tetiana Deshko in her video message to the session participants: “Role of cities in epidemics is absolutely clear: to give an example from my home country – 5 cities are home for 70% of people, living with HIV in Ukraine. The EECA region is going through a broad decentralization reform, which means that more and more resources and make-decision powers are available for mayors of the cities. And the choices that they make in response of HIV and drug-use is critically important.

As for today 26 cities in EECA region have already signed Paris Declaration and they have a willingness to respond HIV among key populations as well as they make concrete steps to make a relevant and strong response. What a bright example is Odesa. In 2017 the city developed a program to respond HIV and TB and allocated over $ 2 million for the 2-years period for OST therapy and syringe exchange through pharmacy. Other example – Belts (Moldova) developed a program and allocated municipal resources, as well as the city of Chisinau, the Osh city (Kyrgyzstan) is another bright example.

The investment into HIV and drug use responses have really proven to be a sustainable investment in favor of broader public health challenges the cities faced. Ten more cities joined Zero TB initiative and now jointly working on improving TB programs. They have become active on Hepatitis and when we were heat by COVID-19 epidemic they developed COVID-response programs for key populations. As an example: 3 cities in Ukraine (Kyiv, Odesa and Dnipro) received rapid reagent tests and immediately started testing key population groups, even before vaccine arrived. Likewise, Bosnia and Herzegovina cities became real allies of response for key populations while no one else where there.”

Tetiana Deshko, Alliance for Public Health Video message to the participants of “Fast track cities on harm reduction – local interventions make the difference” Panel Session on the #EHRC2021