The Union for HIV Prevention and Harm Reduction is a nongovernmental organization located in Balti, in the Republic of Moldova. It provides integrated services to people who use drugs and other affected populations throughout the north of the country.
Each year, more than 3000 people benefit from its services, which including mobile testing for HIV, sexually transmitted infections and hepatitis, harm reduction services, including a needle-syringe programme, the distribution of condoms and psychological and social support. The organization’s outreach and medical workers work closely with state clinics and hospital departments that offer opioid substitution therapy to people who use drugs.
However, the organization has faced a long-time logistical problem with regard to the collection of used needles and syringes generated by the harm reduction programme. Medical waste disposal in the Republic of Moldova, especially in the north of the country, is problematic. Ala Iatco, the nongovernmental organization’s head, explained that destruction of used equipment was only possible by contracting medical institutions to do the work and that the union had to send boxes with contaminated waste to Chisinau, the capital of the country.
“For the approximately 20 years of the harm reduction programme in the country, this problem was always present and solved through burning needles and syringes or other non-environmentally-friendly ways. We had to find a solution to increase the effectiveness of the comprehensive package of services and enhance the safety and security of personnel and volunteers while operating the needle-syringe programme,” said Svetlana Plamadela, UNAIDS Country Manager for the Republic of Moldova.
The UNAIDS Country Office for the Republic of Moldova, together with the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime and the union, came together and suggested a solution. In July 2017, specialized modern medical waste management equipment was procured from the Russian Federation and installed within a Union for HIV Prevention and Harm Reduction facility. The total cost of US$ 23 000 was funded with resources from the One UN Joint Action to Strengthen Human Rights in the Transnistrian Region of the Republic of Moldova project, financed with the support of the Swedish Embassy and co-funded by the Center for Health Policies and Studies (PAS Center), which is a Principal Recipient of the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria.
“The availability of the one-stop disposal system provided by the needle smelters and syringe cutters significantly reduces the risk of accidental exposure and contamination with bloodborne diseases by the volunteers and medical personnel,” added Ms Plamadela.
So far, three organizations-the Union for HIV Prevention and Harm Reduction, Young Women Cernoleuca and Adolescent!-have benefited from the needle-syringe destruction equipment. Partner organizations usually make monthly shipments of needles and syringes for destruction, which are collected by field workers in eco-boxes.
According to Ms Iatco, the equipment is easy to use and maintain. “The machine transforms the contaminated syringes and needles into biologically safe waste. We save almost 50% of the cost of destruction. And, most importantly, we face much fewer risks as we avoid transportation, storage and transfer of hazardous material. For our organization, located in a remote area where no such equipment is available in medical institutions, it’s a cost-effective and less risky solution,” she said.
The needle-syringe programme in the Republic of Moldova started in 1999. Its main goal is to prevent the transmission of HIV and other infections among people who inject drugs by avoiding the sharing of injecting equipment and ensuring enhanced access to health-care services and psychosocial support. The programme also aims to curb the sexual transmission of HIV among people who inject drugs and their sexual partners by promoting the use of condoms and raising awareness about the link between drug use and risky sexual behaviours.