Webinar Series “Web-outreach as a Harm Reduction tool”

Continuing the work which started in 2019 in expanding access to essential HIV health and social services for key populations including people who use New Psychoactive Substances (NPS)/stimulants, UNODC Regional Programme office for Eastern Europe in cooperation with the Charitable Fund “Humanitarian Action” launched a series of webinars aimed at familiarizing with a web-based information dissemination tool.

UNODC RPOEE conducted studies on needs and barriers associated with HIV-related services among key populations. Based on the findings the UNODC initiated the development of the following tools: (i) electronic guide as a knowledge base for HIV harm reduction interventions and (ii) learning animated videos of explaining the harm reduction online services. The tools describe how to implement online each of the intervention from the comprehensive HIV package of services. The exercise gives the community of outreach and harm reduction services more leverage in bringing people who use NPS/stimulants to medical and social services.

Web outreach is a method for contacting, counseling, engaging and keeping people who use NPS/stimulants in harm reduction programs through websites, social networks, messengers, specialized forums, including Darknet sites.

The series of three webinars, on May 19th and 21st and June 2nd, were organized to present the developed tools and exchange best practices examples and included over 200 representatives of state-run and civil society service providers in total.

The first event provided an overview needs assessment studies in the region and an introduction into the basics of web-outreach technology and its usefulness in facilitating access to services among people who use NPS/stimulants. Moreover, an experience by web narcologist was presented to help illustrate practical implementation of web outreach technology. The main goals of web outreach approach were highlighted and include: establishing contact with the people who use NPS (on darknet platforms, messenger, social network etc.); inform and consult people who use drugs (PWUD) on questions concerning health, HIV/viral hepatitis and harm reduction; link PWUD with services; collect data and analyze field information for HIV prevention harm reduction program (to adapt and improve them) or as a warning about the drugs with harmful impurities; keeping PWUD in harm reduction program while also collecting feedbacks from the clients on the relevance of the given information; improving service provision.

It was highlighted that these goals are to be put into action by the diverse team of trained outreach workers – Coordinator, outreach worker, Online consultants (doctors, online psychologist, case managers, consultants on HIV, HCV, PWUD) who are operating on the web outreach principles such as cyber security, respect of the privacy rights, nonjudgmental approach, encouragement of positive changes in client’s life, do not harm principle and teamwork.

The second event focused on a project NPS-info.org, web page which resulted from the needs assessment of people who use NPS in the region where no unified source was previously available. The web source was presented in detail, elaborating the contents of each section and highlighting the practical guidelines which will be region-specific. Recommendations related to safe distribution of online video materials were also discussed.

The third webinar focused on the Kazakhstan case study on needs and barriers associated with HIV-related services among key populations, specifically people who use NPS/stimulants. The study revealed significant patterns of NPS use, issues related to insufficient information and hard-to-reach populations as well as recommendations on the development of policy and planning of medical and social services for people who use NPS/ stimulants. Some of the most pressing issues include: low of awareness on existing services, limited list of medical services accessible to the people without insurance, absence of walking-distance medical services, narrow list of services provided by emergency care, insufficient competency of medical specialist on service provision to people who use NPS, lack of service for juveniles, lack of referral schemes between friendly organization, stigma and discrimination.

In order to provide most effective response to persistent needs and barriers for people who use NPS/stimulants, the necessity to know and understand with whom we are working with and monitor their needs was highlighted. That should be complemented with strengthening the NGOs potential through the funding and transparent tariffication of services, expansion of free-of-charge service, training for all relevant medical specialists and expand information on services through the channels that are available to the clients (chats/groups/outreach).

Source: UNODC.