It has been proven that if provided with access to antiretroviral therapy (ART), people with HIV can have long and quality lives, and if they use preexposure prophylaxis (PrEP or HIV prevention pills taken before sex), chances of transmitting the virus are equal to zero, same as with pregnant women with HIV who take ART. It has been proven that if governments allocate sufficient funds to prevention and treatment, as well as to non-discriminating laws and practices, HIV can become fully controlled and ultimately eradicated.

In spite of all these fact, HIV-related myths are thriving in North Macedonia, young people have no place to be informed, sustainability of HIV-related services has not been secured yet and the discrimination and the stigma faced by the people living with HIV are persisting and prevent them from realising their health and social rights.

This makes it clear why HIV is today our strategic orientation, as it has been for two decades now. In addition to direct provision of HIV services through HERA’s “I Want To Know” Youth Centres in Skopje and the two mobile outpatient clinics for HIV testing across the country, sustainability of HIV prevention and protection programmes is in the spotlight of our advocacy work. This is exactly why in 2014 we initiated the founding of the HIV Platform for ensuring the sustainability of HIV services to key populations, thanks to which we managed to ensure full national funding for HIV services offered by civil society organisations starting from 2018. As a result of the HIV Platform involvement in the Government’s Council for Cooperation with Development of the Civil Sector, today the Action Plan of the Strategy for Cooperation of the Government with the Civil Sector provides for amendments in the primary and secondary legislation towards sustainability of HIV programmes.

HERA is the host of the  Secretariat of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on HIV and a Member of the European Parliamentary Forum for Population and Development. We are also hosting the Regional Coordinating Mechanism for HIV and Tuberculosis of South-Eastern Europe, and we are also members of the National HIV and AIDS Commission and the European HIV Legal Forum.

During the 2020 election campaigning, as part of the HIV Platform, we proposed a Declaration that the Law on Health Protection should identify the civil society organisations as healthcare service providers of particular importance for the public health, which was signed by sixteen political parties, committing to ensure continuity of HIV prevention programmes after the elections so as to end the HIV epidemic and reach zero new infections in the Republic Of North Macedonia by 2030.

Many challenges lie ahead of us, so we are not changing our course until HIV status is no longer perceived as a health status that should deprive the people of their sexual and health rights.

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