The future of harm reduction in the CEECA region: EHRA holds a meeting on strategic planning for 2020–2024

The opening of a two-days Strategic planning meeting for 2020–2024 took place in Vilnius today.

On 9-10 July 2019, the members of the EHRA Steering Committee, experts from the Central and Eastern Europe and Central Asia region (CEECA) as well as the key staff of the Secretariat are working together with the aim to analyze the advocacy results of the last two years and plan the future operational activities of the Association.

The strategic objectives for the EHRA’s development were created in 2017 by a team of the Secretariat and the Steering Committee and based on the experience of harm reduction advocacy approaches and analysis of the situation in the region (Strategic framework for 2018-2019). Today, the Steering Committee will analyze the results of the implementation of the Strategy, based on the results of the survey for the Association members.

“It is already clear that we need to “fix”, to restart harm reduction in the region, to choose the most effective approaches to communication and advocacy. I suppose, even through provocations, but to inform the officials about the importance of helping people, not punishing them. I do hope that during the meeting we will be able to come up with new and fresh answers to complex challenges,” – says Anna Dovbakh, Executive Director, EHRA.

The agenda of this meeting is to develop a theory of changes with the answers to the following questions: how do we want to see harm reduction in the CEECA countries in 5 years, and what do we need to achieve this future, considering many factors, such as:

– widespread distribution of new psychoactive substances and the drug scene changes;

– changes in the level of harm reduction funding and the sources of these funds in different countries of the region;

– changes in the quality of harm reduction services and access to services with the transition to the national funding;

– drug policies toughening in countries;

– сhanges in the civil society participation in decision-making processes at the national and local levels.

“For an organization that brings together more than 250 organizational and individual members in 7 CEECA subregions, it is important to develop strategic directions that will consider existing experience and introduce innovative approaches in advocacy; based on the enormous human and intellectual potential, to carry out work aimed at improving the quality of life for one and all at the national as well as at the regional level. It is important to go beyond the standard, not to be afraid to experiment and plan. After all, we are justly fighting for the fate of people, for the quality of their lives and a better future.” – Marina Chokheli, Chair of Steering Committee, EHRA.

“My expectations from the meeting in Vilnius relate to the importance of the role that EHRA plays today in drug policy reform in the EECA region. At the meeting, we need to decide our Strategy and course of the actions, so these changes in the existing punitive laws in most of our countries regarding people who use drugs could occur as soon as possible. The EHRA Strategy today is not a theory and the reasoning, as it could be, but it is our actions on which the life and health of specific people depend. There is a conditional “counter” in front of our eyes that shows how many people TODAY are arrested, how many TODAY have died from overdoses and lack of help, how many TODAY have become HIV-positive, etc.

This meeting is also important for EHRA too. It is important for us to hear each other life, to find common ground in the work of the Secretariat and the Steering Committee, to unite our efforts in order not to become the heroes of the fable “The Swan, the Pike and the Crab.” One team, one goal, actions in one direction – we cannot leave Vilnius without it.”- Alexander Levin, Steering Committee Co-Chair, EHRA.