AIDS Action Europe met Serbian stakeholders during its meeting in Belgrade. More than 40 representatives of 20 Serbian NGOs working in the fields of HIV/AIDS prevention have participated in the Stakeholder meeting on 12th of April 2016. Among them - representatives of NGOs work with women living with HIV, vulnerable groups like LGBT, sex workers, Roma youth, drug users and organisations working in the field of sexual and reproductive rights from Belgrade and Novy Sad. In addition, representatives from state authorities, Academia (Belgrade University) and pharmaceutical companies contributed to the discussion.
The host, Daniela Simic, from the Institute for Public Health of Serbia “Dr Milan Jovanovic Batut” opened the roundtable discussion with her presentation on "What has been done in Serbia in response to HIV and what are gaps and plans in the future?" Anke Van Dam, the chair of AIDS Action Europe, presented the AAE network and its activities, possibilities for CSO partnerships and funds for HIV/AIDS programme funding in Europe. Also Nenad Petkovic, Steering Committee member of AIDS Action Europe and organiser of the meeting, introduced activities and good practice examples. He works for the local NGO Q-Club in Serbia and in the region.
Serbian civil society organisations reported about challenges they face in their work. Unfortunately, HIV is not of high priority in Serbian politics. Discrimination and stigma is still very high, particularly for persons living in small towns and villages, and especially if connected to other stigma of key populations. In addition, there is very little knowledge about subgroups of key population at risk.
After phasing-out of Global Fund funding in 2014 many programmes were stopped. There is little experience and “know-how” with regard to fund-raising from other sources for financial support for NGOs.
HIV treatment in Serbia is covered by the Public Health Fund, however, some new medicaments are not sufficiently available and there is only very little public financing for HIV prevention. Moreover, participants reported about stock-outs of diagnostics, in particular about CD4 and PCR tests, which are essential to provide standard of care and treatment services. The national strategy on HIV/AIDS is elaborated, but the work on the concrete action plan has not been finalised yet. There is a lack of support for local governments on the important issues: e.g. programmes in prisons, prevention/prophylaxis, and new treatment options are not introduced.
Despite the challenges in the region of Balkan and Southeast Europe, Serbia has a large number of organisations working in this field, so the civil society organisations in Serbia have a big potential. As an example, the European Testing Week was a big success (Report in Serbian) and good practices have been recognized.
During the meeting it became obvious that the collaboration between GO and NGOs is at good level, for instance when it comes to data collection where NGOs the government and academia work closely together. Moreover, other fields of collaboration were identified, for instance when it comes to working with media who can play a key role in fighting discrimination and stigma. The participating NGOs expressed their interest in working closely with AAE by supporting advocacy efforts as an international organisation and to leverage national HIV policies in terms of prevention, testing, treatment and care.
However, the country faces tremendous challenges with increasing infection rates in key populations, in particular in MSM, and joint efforts, also at international level, are needed to respond to the gaps and challenges, to reach the 90-90-90 goals and to end AIDS in the long run.