The oldest harm reduction organisation in Bulgaria shut down

Image from report by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs


The oldest harm reduction organisation in Bulgaria shut down

1 September 2020
Peter Sarosi

In June 2020, all harm reduction services with public funding stopped in Bulgaria for the second time in three (2017-2020) years. The oldest, biggest, and most experienced harm reduction organisation, Initiative for Health Foundation, shut down too. No needle and syringe programs remained open in the country. An article by Yuliya Georgieva.

The story starts in 1997 when Initiative for Health Foundation was founded, becoming the first harm reduction program in Bulgaria. During the next several years they supported and trained two more organisations. “Dose of love” in Burgas and “Panacea” in Plovdiv. They are the pioneers, the people who covered all HIV prevention for people who use drugs (PWUD) during the huge and awful heroin epidemic in the ‘90s.

The heroin epidemic started to fade away after 2003. The Ministry of Health signed a contract with the Global Fund. Three NGOs, including Initiative for Health Foundation, were appointed to be the mentors for the newly founded organisations which needed to work in the field.

The National HIV program encouraged the creation of new organisations to be the grantees of Global Fund grants. Armed with a lot of money and political support, the National HIV program became the architect of making these new NGOs friendly and silent allies. Initially, the staff of these organisations were emotionally motivated. But the Ministry broke their independence and strong motivation and made them into technocrats.

Approximately 50 organisations have received Global Fund funding through the National HIV program for more than 10 years. During this period Bulgaria became one of the most successful countries regarding HIV prevention. The reports were amazing, the epidemic in the biggest ghetto in Europe (Stolipinovo-Plovdiv) was stopped. The results seemed very, very good.