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For many years, HIV infections were very rare among injecting drug users in Romania: one or two cases annually. This situation has changed dramatically in recent years. A market boom in new psychoactive stimulants (sold as “ethnobotanicals”) has led to a rapid increase in the number of drug injections: a heroin user injects 4-5 times a day - a stimulant drug user 10-15 times. There are harm reduction programs in Romania which aim to prevent the sharing of injecting equipment, thus, blood-borne infections. Most of these programs were funded by the Global Fund – but after the country entered the EU, it ceased to be eligible for GF money. The government did not provide money to ensure the sustainability of harm reduction programs, so they had to cut back on their services. Despite the growing demand for sterile needles and syringes, distribution rates have dropped significantly. The result is a fast-growing HIV epidemic among injecting drug users (from 4 new HIV cases in 2007 to 231 in 2012). Harm Reduction programs have tried to bridge the funding gap, using EU structural funds, but these grants came to an end at the end of June – as a result, many programs are facing shutdown.
This is not just a problem confined to Romania – it extends to the whole of Europe. HIV does not respect borders – and solidarity with vulnerable people should be equally heedless of borders. We ask you to take action and send a letter to the Prime Minister and the Minister of Health of Romania and urge them to provide adequate funding for harm reduction. Without international support, it is unlikely that the HIV epidemic can be stopped, and many people will suffer and die as a consequence.