In April this year, in Almaty was launched the Resource Center (RC) for pre-exposure prophylaxis of HIV (PrEP), which is a platform to exchange experience and transfer best practices between countries within the region of Central Asia (CA).
This initiative is unique because the RC is a platform for joint learning and exploration of new topics not only for employees of non-governmental organizations (NGOs), but also for medical professionals. The center is also a platform for dialogue between medical experts and community members.
“In the region of Central Asia, there are a large number of extremely successful practices in providing PrEP for MSM and trans* people. In addition, we see the need and desire to use this method of HIV prevention among members of the community. And, importantly, there are resources for this. However, the work on providing PrEP was not coordinated, and there was no such exchange of experience and dissemination of best practices. Therefore, creating one space for the exchange of experience will increase access to PrEP throughout the region and mobilize the community within the region itself, supporting it with minimal 'external' interference. Sharing experience and learning new things — this is how I would describe the main idea of our center,” says Nikolay Lunchenkov, LGBT Health Coordinator at ECOM and the idea initiator of the Resource Center.
At the moment, the working group of the Resource Center consists of representatives of three countries: Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan. Short-term plans of the working group include sharing the experience of Kazakhstan, which is the leader in projects providing PrEP in the CA region. In particular, getting familiar with the Almaty Model for HIV Epidemic Control. It is also planned to organize meetings and visits to share the experience of Kyrgyzstan on how to work with the trans community, involve and mobilize this group. This experience will also be extremely useful both for Kazakhstan and other countries of the region.
“This platform will allow us to establish closer interaction between governmental and public organizations to improve the access of community members to healthcare services and will give a clearer understanding of how important effective cooperation is. This resource center is supported by the Almaty Model for HIV Epidemic Control Project funded by the Elton John AIDS Foundation,” says Mira Sauranbayeva, Manager of the Almaty Model for HIV Control Project.
“In Kyrgyzstan, since 2021, as part of the UNDP Project for the implementation of a grant from the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria (UNDP/GF Project), together with the Republican AIDS Center and NGOs, PrEP has been introduced among MSM and trans* people. Since 2021, together with ECOM, online and offline training sessions have been held for representatives of NGOs, communities and partners on the implementation of PrEP. The creation of the Resource Center continues this cooperation involving other partners from Kazakhstan. We really hope that through the activities of the Resource Center, the goals of the country and the UNDP/GF Project to provide community representatives with PrEP will be achieved,” says Inga Babicheva, Deputy Program Manager of the UNDP/GF.
The role of such a space for the LGBT communities themselves cannot be overestimated. Oftentimes, PrEP is the tool that makes it possible to offer other services to NGO clients. For example, testing for HIV, hepatitis, sexually transmitted infections, psychological counseling, vaccination and more. Therefore, improving the quality of delivering PrEP services in Central Asia is very important for the community.
The resource center was launched only in April, but the first big event has already been held — the exchange of experience between Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan, as part of a study tour in Almaty, where there were 10 participants from Kyrgyzstan — employees of NGOs and AIDS Centers. This event was held with the joint support of the UNDP/GF Project, ECOM and ICAP in Kazakhstan. In addition to studying the experience of colleagues, a two-day training on chemsex was held
in Kazakhstan, where participants received training on this issue and how to work with it, what services to provide. The first results of this work are now visible, namely, the adaptation of PrEP delivery techniques in Kyrgyzstan and the inclusion of the chemsex issue in their work. It is planned to hold a similar event for colleagues from Tajikistan.
The Resource Center is an initiative created by ECOM together with UNDP in the Kyrgyz Republic, Community Friends, ICAP at Columbia University in Kazakhstan, partners of the Almaty Model for HIV Control Project consortium under the Positive Action program supported by ViiV Healthcare.