People Living with HIV
Working group for support of people living with HIV in the Republic of Macedonia
Together Stronger is the first and the only form of self-organisation of the community of people living with HIV in our country, whose goal is to act for provision of mutual support, as well as to improve the quality of life for people with HIV in the Republic of Macedonia. It was established in 2010 upon initiative of some affected individuals, HERA and the Daily Centre for treatment, care and support at the Clinic for Infectious Diseases and Febrile Conditions in Skopje, after a need arose for mutual support, but also for active inclusion of people with HIV in solving existing problems within the health care system, problems in provision of antiretroviral therapy and tests for monitoring of the infection, as well as problems with social issues such as stigma and discrimination.
At the very beginnings the group consisted of 8 members who after having kept their own HIV status confidential for number of years, managed to gathered courage to sit in the same room and to begin their work on solving the mutual problem. The first challenge they faced was drafting Rules of Procedure to clearly define the method of work of this group, fields of interest and action, as well as models for joining the group, discretion and similar things. The group came up with the name Together Stronger, which explains its essence. Some of the first steps of active advocacy and actions before the institutions were a letter sent to the Clinic for Infectious Diseases and Febrile Conditions in Skopje, asking them to remove the sign at the HIV/AIDS Department in the Clinic, in order to ensure discretion of people hospitalised at this department, and a letter of reaction sent to the Ministry of Health regarding confidentiality of information to be placed on the electronic health card, which was a project in promotion at that time, having in mind the degree of confidentiality and access to information contained on the card. At meantime, the process of new members joining the group continued and grew from 10 to 15, and finally 18. As the group grew, there was a need for capacity building for its members and several trainings were carried out on lobbying, activism, capacity building and organisational management, having some members were trained for voluntary counselling and testing – VCT as well as peer education – PE, specifically for people living with HIV. Peer education started in July 2011 at the Daily Centre for treatment, care and support at the Clinic for Infectious Diseases and Febrile Conditions in Skopje, as a fundamental activity by Stronger Together for support of people living with HIV. Another similar activity is writing or translating brochures and guidelines for information and education of patients. Advocacy activities are more and more directed towards providing therapy and tests for monitoring the infection by authorised institutions, taking into account the continuous lack of systematic solution for this issue in Macedonia. For a second year Together Stronger are in consistent communication with the Ministry of Health, the Bureau on Drugs and the Clinic, in order to find a quality sustainable method to provide required therapy for HIV treatment in Macedonia, tests necessary for regular monitoring of HIV infection (CD4 and PCR), and with the Public Health Institute for provision of free vaccines for PLHIV.
In December 2011, this group helped in the organisation of a concert for the International HIV/AIDS Day on 1 December, which HERA organised in partnership with the Macedonian Opera and Ballet, and Together Stronger will be fully responsible for the organisation of this years’ concert, with the support of HERA. In May 2012, the group participated at the organisation of the first AIDS Candlelight Memorial in Macedonia.
Today Together Stronger is represented at the Country Coordinative Mechanism for grants regarding HIV and tuberculosis and at the National HIV/AIDS Commission. In addition, the group has started communication with a number of other associations of people living with HIV in the region and globally.
Plans for actions of Together Stronger for the future include active advocacy before all relevant institutions for fast and quality solution of the therapy problem and for finding a sustainable way for its supply, procurement of all required tests for monitoring of the infection and improved health care, as well as communication with the media and raising awareness of the public about people living with HIV in Macedonia.