Putting community-led models at the heart of documenting and delivering prevention, testing and treatment of communicable diseases for people who inject and use drugs in the European Union

The European Network of People Who Use Drugs (EuroNPUD) serves as the regional drug user rights network for the European Union and its neighboring countries. EuroNPUD holds a position on the Board of the International Network of People who Use Drugs (INPUD), which, alongside organisations representing other key populations affected by HIV, played a crucial role in advocating for a new Global AIDS Strategy (2021-2026) developed by UNAIDS. This strategy takes a new and bold approach to ending AIDS as a public health threat, focusing on addressing inequalities that hinder progress toward this goal. The strategy recognises the essential role of community-led organisations in ending AIDS and eliminating Hepatitis C, setting ambitious targets for community-led services and advocacy.

The UN, Global Fund to Fight AIDS, TB and Malaria (GFATM), and other international donors are showing a particular commitment to community-led monitoring (CLM). When these stakeholders seek advice and feedback through community researchers and networks of people who use drugs, the community-led knowledge generated can provide detailed and sensitised evidence that strengthens and extends service models. These community-led organisations have played a pivotal role in shaping the landscape for drug treatment and harm reduction services. Therefore, while the focus on CLM and consumer feedback on drug services is important, it is equally essential to highlight the demonstrated capacity of community-led organisations in delivering innovative harm reduction and drug treatment services.

Aligned with these strategies, the EU Co-funded BOOST Project emphasizes the contributions of people who use drugs through a participative development approach, ensuring that valuable resources in community services are wisely spent. EuroNPUD plays a cross-cutting role as a community-led partner co-designing and developing the project and contributing to different work programs that illustrate the integration of community-led responses.

In this capacity, EuroNPUD has conducted four focus groups with people who inject and use drugs in Belgium, Czech Republic, Finland, and Italy. The aim is to gather and share community-led knowledge, providing insights on good practices and community perspectives regarding the quality and accessibility of HCV testing and treatment services for people who use drugs in the EU. This information will support the understanding and development of good practices on communicable diseases through the BOOST project, with community members engaged in supporting the development of such practices in their respective countries in 2024.

EuroNPUD has also researched and documented two good practice case studies of community-led services providing low threshold testing and onward engagement in services. These case studies describe the community outreach approach of GAT in Lisbon, Portugal, and ProLAR’s mobile HCV testing bus in Norway. The resulting EuroNPUD Community-Led Responses to Communicable Diseases will be published in 2023, contributing to EuroNPUD’s suite of resources on peer-led harm reduction. This work will be further explored by country drug user organisations in the Czech Republic, Greece, Slovenia, and Spain, who will receive small grants to develop community-led practices on communicable diseases.

EuroNPUD is also actively contributing to the Advocacy Work Programme. Partners facilitated a series of sub-regional advocacy dialogues to gather queries and priorities from key civil society experts across the EU and its neighbouring countries. EuroNPUD coordinated a dedicated advocacy dialogue among community-led advocates, resulting in a dedicated report. EuroNPUD’s team of advocates were supported in bringing community-led voices and advocacy inputs to advocacy dialogues in various subregions in Europe, ensuring that peer expert voices were included in sub-regional dialogues. This ensured the integration of community-led priorities in dialogues with harm reduction and drug policy partners.

In summary, BOOST brings a dedicated focus on communicable disease prevention, testing, and treatment in the EU and its neighbouring countries. This emphasis on community-led approaches and the integration of EuroNPUD across the BOOST project align with the community-led emphasis of the latest Global AIDS Strategy (2021-2026). Although BOOST is still in its first year of development, the project’s design already illustrates the central role that community members play in informing the project’s priorities.