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Drop in center opened in Kyrgyzstan

Zhalalabad, Kyrgyzstan, 23 February 2007 -- Among NGOs that are involved in preventing the HIV/AIDS infection, the public association Tais Plus2 was the first organization in the south Kyrgyzstan to open a drop-in center. The center in Zhalalabad was open in the framework of the Central Asian Regional HIV/AIDS Project (CARHAP), with the support of Soros-Kyrgyzstan Foundation and the Global Fund.

The aim of the drop-in center is to reduce spread of HIV/AIDS and its harm to the marginalized groups of population. This includes mainly women, who had been subjected to violence, either domestic or on the street; workers in the “sweatshops” of the sex industry, intravenous drug users (IDUs) and HIV-positive sex workers. The house gives them free a shelter for the period of 3 to 7 days.

“Since the opening, as many as 170 people attended our center,” says the manager of the center, E. Sergo. “The age of those in need varied from 15 to 35. They are mostly sex workers and IDUs. But some 10-15% of visitors come here either to get counseling, without an intention to stay.”

Victims of violence and abuse hear about the center from the outreach workers, through the word on mouth and from the media. One of the advantages of this center is the system of coding when registering a new client. The secret code is known only to the client and the program employees. It is anonymous and computerized. The coding system protects a database with a full profile of the client, dates of visits, length of stay, symptoms, services delivered, etc. The information is accessible via the Internet. The information about sex workers is also hoped to help in solving issues of trafficking.

If necessary, the client can stay in drop-in center 3 to 7 days, receive counseling with psychologist and a physician and get free anonymous STI testing and treatment. L. Maximenko, psychologist provides professional counseling.

The drop-in center is functioning on a self-service basis. There is a volunteer to help at any time of the day. The tenants have to observe the house rules: to follow the 10 pm curfew, to check out when leaving, not to share center’s telephone number and the address with clients, not to bring visitors and clients, not to bring alcoholic beverages, keep the place clean and quiet, handle the center’s property with care, etc.

Tais Plus2, the sister organization of Tais Plus, the SWAN Member from Kyrgyzstan, has also launched a project on HIV/AIDS and STI Prevention among vulnerable groups of Zhalalabad, such as sex workers and their clients. The project, financed by the Global Fund, distributes syringes and condoms to sex workers. To save environment and prevent spread of HIV/AIDS, IDU-sex workers are required to return used syringes in order to get new ones.

As a result of the advocacy efforts of several civil society groups such as Tais Plus and Anti-AIDS from Bishkek and Tais Plus2 from Zhalalabad, there will be no criminalization of sex work in Kyrgyzstan. Through number of public hearings they managed to convince the authorities that sex workers should not be repressed. They rather should be protected, given jobs and basic support.

Force and violence will not solve the existing problems. They can only cause the vulnerable groups go underground where it will be more difficult to prevent them from getting infected with HIV/AIDS. The efforts of these NGOs were supported and acknowledged by the government of the Republic. We hope this support will be more than just words.