PITCH positively changes people's lives in Ukraine

PITCH positively changes people's lives in Ukraine

In our series on PITCH Country Focal Points, Anton Basenko from Ukraine shares what he hopes to achieve with his partners before the end of the programme.

What are the key advocacy successes achieved in PITCH in your country to date?

There are several significant achievements PITCH has made in Ukraine. I would like to elaborate briefly about each of them:

  • The Cabinet of Ministers approved a new regulatory act enabling non-governmental organisations to receive funding from the state budget for offering HIV prevention, harm reduction and treatment, care and support services to people living with HIV, people who use drugs, sex workers, and men who have sex with men. This progressive law is now being advocated in the wider region of Eastern Europe and Central Asia. Alliance for Public Health, the host organisation of PITCH Ukraine’s Country Focal Point and the principal recipient of the Global Fund’s regional grant covering 14 countries (mainly former Soviet states), is helping to adopt the best practises of Ukraine’s transition from the Global Fund support to state-funded health services into other countries. 
  • Most recently, transgender people, prisoners and women living with HIV are joining people who use drugs, sex workers and men having sex with men on the Country Coordination Mechanism (CCM). As a result, the voices of key populations are now well-represented and heard thanks to national advocacy initiatives. Although people who use drugs is the largest represented community on the regional (oblast) coordination mechanisms, the number of sex workers and lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) representatives in these mechanisms is expected to increase in the near future. 
  • Equally important is the work accomplished on the gender transformative approach. Now, the Network of Women Who Use Drugs has become an organised movement with well-trained activists who represent the community in parliament and at recent international events, such as Women Deliver in Vancouver and the Harm Reduction Conference in Porto. There has also been an impressive growth of different coalitions in Ukraine, such as the Drugs Users’ Association, the Network of People Who Use Drugs, the Network of Women Who Use Drugs, and the National Network of Sex Workers. Critical to this has been a series of trainings and discussions funded by PITCH. These events helped to clarify the understanding of the partnership among stakeholders. As a result, it is now seen not just as a traditional donor – sub-grantee relationship, but it has grown into a partnership characterised by an organised movement with joint advocacy strategies. These organisations now have relevant skills and use community-based research and mapping to support their advocacy asks and particular issues.
  • From a human rights perspective, police attacks on people who use drugs has decreased, largely due to multiple trainings for police officers where PITCH implementing partners and networks of people who use drugs co-train them. The unique feature of this successful approach is the direct interaction between law enforcement officers and people receiving harm reduction or opioid substitution therapy (OST) services. On the other hand, there has been an increase in attacks on LGBT organisations, particularly from ultra-right political and religious movements. Following the attacks on PITCH partner’s LIGA activists in Mykolaiv and Odessa, PITCH has provided flexible funding to the organisation to tighten their safety and security. In addition, LIGA is involved in the Pride week events in Kyiv at the end of June, the main national event to address human rights issues of the LGBT community in Ukraine. This year, Pride in Kyiv attracted 8,000 participants, an incredible number for this important event. 
  • The opening of opioid substitution therapy (OST) sites in Ukraine is yet another achievement to which PITCH contributed. In June, a new OST site in Lohvitsa (Poltava) was opened. What is unique about this site is that the entire advocacy cycle, starting from the definition of the problem, decision-making, technical preparation, training of the medical staff, and finally, the opening of the site, was carried out by the community representatives from Meridian, a PITCH partner. Community members know best how OST works and what is needed, especially in smaller towns. With this latest OST site, there are now 203 sites and more than 11,600 OST patients in Ukraine, the biggest OST programme in Eastern Europe and Central Asia.

What has surprised you in your role?

Over the past few years, I have evidenced how PITCH positively changes people’s lives, particularly the lives of the marginalised, people receiving treatment or drug users. They have become recognised and are appreciated for their expertise and skills in their relentless advocacy work.

I see a lot of famous activists from various PITCH partner organisations on an international level who started off as regular members of particular initiatives or informal groups. Thanks to their leadership skills and willingness to represent the interests of key populations they have grown into strong advocacy professionals defending the rights and interests of key populations.

I am surprised how unique a specific advocacy programme can be. When people suddenly become the voice representing hundreds and thousands of voices, feeling the strong responsibility for their work and holding the power among decision makers to bring about critical change.

In addition, I was surprised how implementing partners have come to appreciate the revised M&E system in PITCH. It has shown that if M&E is organised well by the donor, it could be made interesting and useful for all partners.  For instance, the WANDA system featuring advocacy log templates, new reporting templates and guidelines in parallel with M&E webinars have helped the partners to understand that advocacy is not the only process. It has advocacy asks, milestones, significant moments of change and can be easily monitored and supported by evidence- and community-based research making advocacy flexible, clearly planned and results-based.

Who are your strongest allies?

The main partners on the political level are the Embassy of the Netherlands in Ukraine and the Vice Prime Minister of Ukraine. The Embassy provides significant political support, which is sometimes invisible as it takes place via diplomatic interventions by Ambassador Ed Hoeks and his staff. Mr Hoeks has met Ukrainian activists and representatives of key populations in person three times, and he is a great supporter of the programme on the intergovernmental level.

The Vice Prime Minister of Ukraine, Pavlo Rozenko is also the chairman of CCM in Ukraine and representative at the Global HIV Prevention Coalition of UNAIDS. It is a miracle for us to have such a committed person speaking out on HIV and TB issues. Under his leadership, we have seen substantial changes in the philosophy in the CCM movement, the widest inclusion of all constituencies of key populations in CCM and preparation of relevant legal acts, such as national HIV strategies, drug strategies, and CCM regulatory acts. As a member of the Cabinet of Ministers, Mr Rozenko can use his influence to strategically address particular issues.

Other important partners are the Alliance for Public Health, which supports all key communities in the fight of HIV, TB and viral hepatitis in Ukraine and elsewhere. UNAIDS, as a partner of the Tripartite Partnership (including AFEW International and the Embassy of the Netherlands). With the appointment of the new country director of UNAIDS, Mr Roman Hailevich, the partnership has strongly intensified. Originally from Belarus, Mr Hailevich has been working at the EECA Regional UNAIDS Office for a long time and he knows all the partners and community leaders in the region, especially in Ukraine. The National Key Populations Platform, which was established within the Tripartite Partnership representing all key population groups in Ukraine is also a significant partner.

What are the key next steps in your global advocacy plans? 

The UN High-Level Meeting on Universal Health Coverage (UHC) in September is very important considering Ukraine’s transition from the Global Fund and the ongoing health reform. During the meeting, the Ukrainian Government representatives will report their achievements on UHC to date and announce commitments for the coming years.

The significance of the AIDS 2020 conference lies in its strength to create the space for high-level decision makers to enforce commitments on the international level. Similar to AIDS 2018, we expect key stakeholders from local, regional and national government in Ukraine to attend the event, such as the Mayor of Kyiv and Vice Prime Minister.  

What is the top change you hope to see in your country by the end of 2020? 

I would like to see key population communities being independent, organised and receiving adequate financial support. Quality life-saving services and treatment should be accessible on all levels, including the most marginalised and hard-to-reach groups. Last but not least, gender sensitive policies and the observance of human rights during all decision-making and implementation processes with regard to the lives and health of key populations should become the norm. We dream about peace, love and happiness among the people of Ukraine despite one's HIV status, drug use, sexual orientation or gender identity.

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