In 2012, HOPS – Healthy Options Project Skopje, in cooperation with other organizations in Macedonia such as the Association for Healthy Life Styles PULSE – Kumanovo, commenced with lectures on tuberculosis and HIV/AIDS co-infection. The lectures, supported by the Ministry of Health of Macedonia, are financed by the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria and are aimed towards different target groups vulnerable to tuberculosis, among them people who use drugs as well. As a former drug user I participated as an educator of other people who use drugs, which for me personally was very challenging.
First, I as a former drug user and now an activist in the Association for Healthy Life Styles PULSE – Kumanovo was trained by doctors from the Clinic for Pulmonology and acquired a certificate and knowledge which I could share with other users. HOPS – Healthy Options Project Skopje was a huge support by providing educational packages and materials (flyers), which motivated the target group to attend the lectures and learn something more about tuberculosis.
After this, I held lectures for the target group I myself belong to, an advantage when working in this field. At the beginning I placed great effort in catching their attention and educating them thoroughly on tuberculosis. Although it is very difficult to enter the closed circle of drug users and lecture them on any topic, I managed it by dividing them in groups of 6 to 10 people that knew each other in order to avoid them feeling ashamed. HOPS was huge support by providing motivational packages and educational materials (flyers). The motivational packages with personal hygiene sets, vitamins and similar, as well as the flyers boosted the attendance of more people.
To my surprise, the interest on the lectures grew after the first one. The news spread among the people who use drugs that they can learn something useful. Honestly, their interest in the disease surprised me because most of them or someone close to them has been in prison and they were all aware that tuberculosis is most common there. There was even a specific case of a participant who had tuberculosis while in prison and received treatment there. He attended my lectures and his example served as an explanation that the disease is transmitted quite differently than what they believed previously. The most common belief was that tuberculosis is transmitted through touch, using the same kit, injecting equipment etc.
Before the lectures, people who use drugs in Kumanovo did not know what tuberculosis was or about HIV/AIDS co-infection. They believed it is a fatal disease without cure. This was the knowledge available to them. The lectures increased their interest, and they even started sharing prison experiences among themselves at the end of my presentations during the Q&A and the discussion.
In my opinion the lectures helped this target group, and still do, to disseminate information among people who use drugs on what tuberculosis actually is and how it is transmitted. As I have already mentioned during the lectures we had a specific case of a drug user treated in prison who managed to successfully return to society. Although when he was released certain people had received him with stigma and prejudices due to his tuberculosis diagnosis, the lectures among the drug users helped us prove that he was cured.
With the lectures I was successful in explaining tuberculosis to this community, able to explain the disease can be treated and that treatment is free!
Unfortunately, tuberculosis still exists, however there is medicine for it – antituberculosis drugs – and the treatment in Macedonia is free!
Robert Jovanovski – Kotorac
An activist in the Association for Healthy Life Styles PULSE – Kumanovo.