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Service Center for Sex Workers in Kazan: A New Avant-Garde From the Heart of Russia

A recently established service center in Kazan is at the moment the only institution in Russia providing anonymous and free complex medical, psychological and social assistance to sex workers
Exclusively for SWAN News by Lilia Taisheva and Nebojsa Radic
KAZAN, RUSSIA, October 2006 – Kazan, the capital of the autonomous Russian republic of Tatarstan, and its inhabitants have many reasons to be proud. Kazan is one of the largest economic, scientific, cultural centers and ancient cities of Russia. Situated some 800 kilometers to the east from Moscow, on the edge of Siberia, it has a long and rich history dating back to the Middle Age and the time of the Volga Bulgars. In the beginning of the 19th century Kazan State University (KSU) and Printing Press were founded here by Alexander I. Among others, Lobachevsky, the founder of the non-Euclidic geometry studied at KSU and was it rector from 1827 to 1846. Lev Tolstoy and Alexander Pushkin, who both lived and wrote here, immortalized the city which lays on the intersection of eastern and western cultures and boasts some of Russia's oldest architectural masterpieces. Music lovers will know that Fyodor Chaliapin was born here, and that one of the greatest 20-th century dancers, the ballet genius Rudolf Xämätulı Nureyev was Tatar.
In 2005, when Kazan celebrated its millennium, several outstanding events put the city again into the Russian media and on the world map. The 200th anniversary of the founding of the KSU was introduced into the UNESCO anniversaries list for 2004-2005. A single metro line with five stations was opened and the largest mosque in Russia, Qolsharif, was inaugurated in the city center. But the establishment of the Service Center Simona - providing anonymous and free complex medical, psychological and social assistance to sex workers – was a single event that made the city an avant-garde in dealing with contemporary social and public health issues in Russia. More

The Center is unique in many ways. With a strategic aim to slow down the spread of HIV and other STI, it is at the moment the only institution in Russia that provides innovative, complex medical and psycho-social services to commercial sex workers. It is all done with participation of sex workers who are also consulted in decision making. Last but not least, establishment of Simona Center is an example of a fruitful collaboration between the government and civil society in addressing social and community problems.

“Right from the beginning we invited sex workers to participate in the development of the Center’s activities” - says Project Coordinator Svetlana Kotchetkoba. “Nobody understands the needs and problems of the commercial sex workers better than them. We introduced peer-to-peer program and trained a group of sex workers who joined the Center as volunteers. We also organize regular meetings with the Center’s clients and discuss the services offered and possibilities for their improvement” – adds Kotchetkoba.

Service Center Simona is active in four main areas:

1. Medical diagnosis, consultations and treatment
2. Provision of psychological and social services
3. Founding and development of an active volunteer team
4. Development of a research-and-practice model for medical and psychological help to sex workers.

The Center is a result of joint efforts, resources and experiences of the state, represented by the Kazan Dermatovenerologic Dispensary, and civil society, represented by an NGO called New Century. Besides these two organizations that are its founders, Center closely collaborates with AIDS Center, Obstetric and Drug Addiction Center, Legal Center, organization of people living with AIDS, and other organizations. The local government recognized a good model and readily supported it. In order to help eliminate bureaucratic hurdles and enable a more efficient interaction with treatment and prevention institutions of the city, the Administration of Healthcare sector of Kazan issued in March 7, 2006 a directive №123 “On organization of center for medical help to commercial sex workers”.

The Center is financially supported by AIDS Infoshare Russia, part of the Infoshare International, http://www.spiral.com/infoshare/newsletterInfoshare.html . Since the beginning of 2006, 276 visits of sex workers were registered, 117 of which were repeated. Majority of clients are between 19 and 39 years old. 28% of the clients are street sex workers, 72% of them work through agencies.

The founders of the Center are eager to export their innovative product throughout Russia: “It is a new experience for Russia and it will be introduced to other regions in order to further develop prevention programs for commercial sex workers” – says Svetlana Kotchetkoba. “We will analyze the medical and psychological data that we are collecting right now, in order to develop optimal work methods. The end-product will be a research-and-practice model for medical and psychological help to sex workers. Today, a complex medical and psycho-social service that can provide a prompt and effective help in the comfort of friendly environment and caring attitude of the personnel is in demand among sex workers” – says Kotchetkoba.

We salute this avant-garde work and wish Simona success and many replications!

Click here to see the city of Kazan on the map of Russia.

Contact persons: Alfia Novikova and Xenia Stepanova
E-mail: newcentury2005@yandex.ru  
Tel: +7-843-522-86-85
Service Center SIMONA,
RUSSIA, 420094 Kazan,
Ul. Korolenko, d.54, kab.23