Our movie gives you an overview of the crisis of harm reduction programs in Bosnia-Herzegovina, where harm reducers don’t receive support from the government but they keep doing their work and saving lives.
When we visited the drop-in centre in Zenica, an industrial town in Bosnia-Herzegovina, I could hardly believe what I saw. The centre has an unusual neighbour, a kindergarten, that shares the building with a program that provides clean needles and syringes for injecting drug users. Downstairs, you see children’s drawings on the wall. Upstairs, you see HIV prevention posters. When I asked Denis Dedajic, the head of the program, to explain how can this be possible, he simply shrugged his shoulders. “For all these years, we never had any problems or incidents with them,” he said. Good cooperation with the local community is one of the key elements of success for a harm reduction program.
Margina, the NGO that operates the drop-in centre, has learnt this lesson well. This was the first needle and syringe program in the country when it was founded in 2002. As Denis explained to us, there is evidence that they have prevented many deaths and diseases. Zenica has the lowest hepatitis C rates among injecting drug users in Bosnia, half of that in Sarajevo, the capital. According to their estimations, they saved 2.5 Million Euros for tax payers every year. You may think the state has a responsibility to fund such a cost-effective program.
Unfortunately the Bosnian government does not share this view. This program has been almost fully funded by international donors, such as the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria. When rich donor countries decided to reduce the budget of the Global Fund after the financial crisis, the international funding for harm reduction ended in Bosnia (like in Serbia and Macedonia). Several programs had to close down, for example the drop-in centre in Sarajevo, which was operated by the NGO PROI. The drop-in centre in Zenica was luckier: the municipality provided them free house rental. But they don’t have the resources to buy needles – in fact they don’t even have the budget to pay salaries. Denis and his colleagues work for free. This is a shame.
Please help Denis and his colleagues to raise awareness of the harm reduction funding crisis in South-Eastern Europe by watching and sharing this video!
By Peter Sarosi and Istvan Gabor Takacs