The BOOST Project: Strengthening Community-led Harm Reduction Organizations to BOOST Public Health

HIV/AIDS and viral hepatitis are major public health burdens and disproportionally affect specific vulnerable groups, particularly people who use drugs. These vulnerable groups often face a double burden of risk factors and difficulties in accessing health services due to criminalisation and stigma for drug use, resulting in aggravated health disparities. According to the World Health Organization (WHO) reaching key populations with an increased risk of HIV with appropriate services allows for a more efficient identification of PLHIV and thus provides them with an entry point to access care, treatment, and support.

Currently, Europe counts on important harm reduction organizations that work on providing these services to people who use drugs, which include delivering health promotion interventions for communicable diseases (i.e., prevention, linkage to care, and treatment), and advocating for this increasingly affected community. The BOOST Project, brings together European Harm Reduction Networks and the European Network of People who Use Drugs (EuroNPUD) with the aim to strengthen and support these community-based and community-led harm reduction organisations in providing high-quality services to people who use drugs for the effective management of communicable diseases (from prevention to treatment), as part of a comprehensive, people-centred, and integrated approach targeting vulnerable groups. Hence, BOOST supports EU and neighbouring countries in reaching the agreed goals, of ending the AIDS epidemic, and combating hepatitis and other communicable diseases, including the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) set by the United Nations, and particularly SDG 3.

To achieve this, the project focuses on 4 key areas: Inform, Improve, Support, Connect & Act. “The overall umbrella is harm reduction, providing services for people who use drugs and for other underserved populations – to support organizations in providing good services. We look at what are the needs, look at what is there already and how we can improve it, intensify it, boost it, so that services get better, and that people who use drugs can find services easier.”, describes Georg Bröring, a project coordinator from Correlation European Harm Reduction Network (C-EHRN) leading the BOOST project.

  • INFORM: To assess and inform on current practice and quality of community-based service provision for communicable diseases as an integral part of community-based harm reduction organisations by identifying good practice models, collecting data on testing and linkage to care for HIV/HCV/HBV, adapting the COBATEST reporting tool for harm reduction services, and consulting the views of people who use drugs on these services.  
  • IMPROVE: To improve the knowledge and expertise in the area of communicable disease services as an integral part of community-based harm reduction organisations by enhancing digital literacy skills through the development of training modules, scaling up the use of digital tools, and providing peer-to-peer mentorship for the use of good practice models, to ultimately increase testing, linkage to care, and treatment.
  • SUPPORT: To build capacity and raise the number of expert community-based organisations that have a comprehensive communicable diseases action plan (CDAP), the four expert partners will select four other community-based organisations to receive training and real-time mentorship to become expert organizations, namely “Lighthouses”. The selected Lighthouses will be supported to develop well-defined CDAPs and serve as experts in their regions. 
  • CONNECT & ACT: The information and learnings from the other activities will allow for BOOST to strengthen and consolidate existing European harm reduction networks and advocate for the implementation of good practice models of communicable disease prevention, treatment, and care interventions for people who use drugs at European, national and local level.

The BOOST project is part of a 3-year European Commission co-funded action grant which officially kicked off on January 1st, 2023. The BOOST project includes the following partners: