Documentary Shows Power of Harm Reduction in Kyrgyzstan

A still from the film, Stay Together to Stay Alive

A still from the film, Stay Together to Stay Alive.

A new documentary, Stay Together to Stay Alive, offers a glimpse into the world of harm reduction in Kyrgyzstan. The film focuses on how non-government organisations are ensuring sustainable state funding for harm reduction programmes in the country.

In recent decades, Kyrgyzstan has become known among some activist groups as the “pioneer of harm reduction” in the region. The Kyrgyz government was the first in the Central Asian region to introduce such strategies, including needle syringe programmes (NSPs) and opioid substitution therapy (OST). In an unusually progressive move for the region, the state also provides OST to 450 inmates who use opioids on a daily basis.

In Stay Together to Stay Alive, which was produced by Drug Users News, the filmmakers showcase the personal stories of people with drug dependency, and how harm reduction activists are working to improve their health and livelihoods.

Harm reduction services are vital in Kyrgyzstan, as injecting drugs are a major contributor to HIV. As of January 1, 2016, there were 6,402 people in Kyrgyzstan who were registered as living with HIV. Among these, 51.5 per cent are people who inject drugs. The actual number of people with HIV is expected to be higher, according to state AIDS Centre director Umutkan Chokmorova, as it is unlikely that everyone with the virus has been tested.

Both OST and NSPs are proven to reduce the spread of HIV among people who inject drugs.

Stay Together to Stay Alive, with English subtitles

Despite the government’s commitment to harm reduction services, the film illustrates that there are still key issues in the approach; a lack of an integrated approach to service provision, a lack of shelters, and limited provisions to prevent people from becoming addicted to drugs.

Batma Estebesova, director of non-governmental organization Socium, claims that one of the most significant challenges for activists is convincing medical professionals and police of the benefits of a humane approach. An empathetic approach would help decrease community tensions, decrease the fear that criminality will grow, and help solve some of society’s complicated social problems, Estebesova says.

Aibar Sultangaziev, representative of the Partners Network Association, claims that the sustainable progress of harm reduction in Kyrgyzstan relies upon the state and civil society working as equal partners.

“Recently we did an assessment of the State Anti-Drug Programme and it became clear that 14 out of 17 tasks of that programme were not fulfilled”, Sultangaziev claimed, referring to the list of strategic areas outlined by the government. “We are convinced that involvement of the new organisations should bring competition into this field and increase quality of services provided. This will help the state bring more impetus to work more efficiently within the limited resources”.