Harm Reduction Responses to COVID-19 in Europe: PRAGUE, Czech Republic
Our colleagues at Drugreporter provide regular updates about resources and news on how harm reduction service providers respond to the COVID-19 Epidemic.
This pandemic is a serious threat to harm reduction services that are underfunded, overloaded and have no political support in many countries. Professionals, peers and volunteers working at harm reduction services need to be protected too, with special equipment and training to prevent infections and burning out. If harm reduction services close down, the most vulnerable people of our society will have no connection to the health care system and loose essential support to stay alive. (Click here for useful resources!)
PRAGUE, Czech Republic: David Pesek, Sananim
The global pandemic of COVID 19 affects all aspects of people’s lives and it has a very strong impact on those most at risk, namely people who use drugs. There are much less opportunities for the most vulnerable regarding how to make a living. As Prague is very touristic place, the most vulnerable people used to beg for money from tourists. There are no tourists now. Everywhere are tough restrictions. People have less money, but the substances are getting more expensive and shorages start to develop in the market. “We are expecting less precursors to make crystal meth (famous pervitin in Czech Republic) and are afraid of the return of dangerous new psychoactive substances,” says David Pesek.
Clients of OST programs are facing a difficult challenge: how to economise on prescription medication, taken home in bigger amount than before the crisis. “The government has a strict message: ‘Stay at home with your close relatives!’,” says Pesek. “But how hard it is to comply for people who have no home, and often not even close relatives?” There is a crisis plan to create outdoor shelters where homeless people can camp in tents, with access to some hygienic and other facilities. But the situation of homeless people is alarming.
Drug services that are often the only facilities available for these people had to introduce some safety measures. These restrictions also apply at the Harm Reduction facility, the drop-in centre of SANANIM, where they implemented a set of measures to response to the current situation. They discontinued the provision of all interventions that would involve group meetings. They switched to phone or online counseling and therapy with clients . They had to suspend testing for infectious diseases. “This is really disturbing,” says Pesek. “Lets hope we can restart testing soon again!” They had to adjust the needle and syringe program to the situation and give away more harm reduction material. In addition to sterile needles and syringes, they distribute tissues, respirators, more food, fliers with information about the pandemic and preventing infections etc.