Bilateral cooperation between the Slovenian and Norwegian NGOs

The Association Cultural, Information and Counselling Service Centre Legebitra established a project cooperation with a Norwegian non-governmental organization Helseutvalget, which operates in the field of gay and lesbian health in Norway. Firstly, the Norwegian partner’s representatives attended an expert seminar, held as part of the project in June 2015 at the Department of infectious diseases and febrile illnesses of UKC Ljubljana. The topic of the conference was overcoming hiv-related stigma and prejudice at all levels of the health system. The panel increased the number of skilled experts in the field, which is also one of the effects of the project and at the same time a Norway Grants Programme result (Set A: Public health initiatives). The representatives of the Norwegian non-governmental organization gave a lecture about the MSM hiv prevention system back home, as well as on wider responsibilities (like overcoming stigma of MSM and people living with hiv), shared with other stakeholders and the system in general (including politics). Our guests visited the Institute of Microbiology and Immunology (University of Ljubljana) (LINK to timeline) and headquarters & activities of project partners ŠKUC and DIH. During the visit, we held a joint meeting of the Project Board in English, where in addition to coordinating administrative affairs, we discussed comprehensively about the methods of presenting measurements of the work done and the impacts of community-based testing.

Study visit of three Slovene NGOs to Norway

A second intensive bilateral study visit was in August 2015, when a larger delegation of representatives and community workers from the three Slovene non-governmental partner organizations visited Oslo for five days. A diverse and intense programme included (in addition to meetings at the headquarters of Helseutvalget) shadowing which got us closely acquainted with the Norwegian approach, developed by non-governmental organizations for their hiv prevention work. We attended the community-based testing event and had a chance to experience the testing service. It was especially informative when we got to know the details of the procedures used by our Norwegian colleagues for the same service. We visited the location and were presented the workflow of testing in saunas and other areas, got familiarised with preventive outreach (field) activities around Oslo and in relevant social events. One of the most fascinating moments was to visit the Norwegian clinic Olafia (Link to photos) which is run under the supervision of specially trained doctors and nurses. It provides a simple and accessible testing method, that ensures a yearly increase of detected hiv and sexually transmitted infections (STIs) due to friendly accessibility. In Slovenia the mirror institution would be the Dermatological clinic of UKC Ljubljana. It was relevant to learn about the work of HIV Norway, whose main goal is to help and support people living with hiv, strengthen support for individuals and tackle the issue of stigma. We also visited the University clinic of Oslo (Link to photos), which is the main care provider in Norway for people living with hiv. We were presented with the usual procedure of the treatment and the treatment system as a whole at the clinic.

The effects and synergies of the bilateral cooperation

After visiting Norway, we immediately implemented changes on several levels on how non-governmental organizations operate (but only of course those which were valuable in our local context): i.e. testing on Saturdays at noon – as a testing event serving people living outside the capital; testing in saunas; we improved our outreach activities and made many other small but vital improvements. A special report has more detailed on the study visit and its effects on the activities in Slovenia (Link to results – report from Oslo).

The participation of Norwegian representatives is also expected at the final project symposium, held on the 10th of June 2016 in Ljubljana. Aside a meeting of the Project Board will be held, where all partners will present the (current) results of the project.

View of our Norwegian partners:

By Rolf Martin Angeltvedt, excerpt from his speech on Symposium

“It’s impressive how Legebitra, Škuc and Dih, University and the institute of Microbiology and immunology and the Clinic for infectious diseases collaborations manage or at least “try” to cooperate together in this project. I would love to stressed this – what maybe seems like a natural thing to do it is actually not easy to succeed. In the rest of Europe and even in my own country NGOs and other are fighting about financing, profession and position. The meaning of documented cooperation in this grants-program is crutial. So keep up the excellent work and try harder if someone isn’t doing their part.

It’s amazing all of the activities that have been done since we where here one year ago. Last august we had an successful visit from a Slovenian delegation in Norway. Where we manage to introduce you to a broad of our partners from Health directorate wich are managing funding of the prevention work done in this field in Norway. Our national lgbt-center. You met the biggest infectious clinic in Norway/Oslo where we as an NGO can refer to care the same day or the next for newly diagnosed HIV patients. Other NGO partners you visit was Hiv Norway, the National Association for lesbians gays bisexuals and transgender people in Norway called LLH wich now have change their name too Fri (FREE). And at last Olafiaklinikken a national recourse center for counseling, examination and treatment of sexually transmitted infections. And which also is a free STD testing service in Oslo.

And as you also saw that the group was invited to see some of our outreach work and to see how we arrange our prevention work in Norway. Especially anonymous community-based rapid testing for hiv/syphilis delivered by our volunteers.

These bilateral visits are very important to exchange knowledge and best-practice experiences in both countries. When we was here last year we very inspired about the work being done here, but also about the energy in the project. How you manage to cooperate with so many partners together with common the same common goals. Based on the visit last year we actually are now planning to try out a new home-sampling metod to make MSM them self take the Gonorea and Clamydia tests, from all openings of course, and make them send the samples to a laboratory for test. One good example we where inspired from the last years visit and data presented in this fora.

Gay and Lesbian Health Norway are participating in different partnerships and we also try to isparticipate in international networks, work and support. We are often contacted by different NGOs in Europe, Russia/Ukraine, Middle East about cooperation.

Infection figures increases while we are testing too little – we need further investment in innovative test offers targeting key populations effected in the HIV epidemic such as MSM. We experiencing an increasing number of sexually transmitted infections gonoré and clamydia among the same target group in our country. Public Health in Norway reports 300 percent increase of HIV cases, 500 percent increase in gonorrhea and 400 percent increase in syphilis among MSM since 2002. Gay and Lesbian Health want to step up tests performed by test pilot projects for home testing for HIV and sexually transmitted infections. As of today there are no good data on how many among MSM group tests annually. A combination of representative data and registry data suggest an estimate indicating that only between 15 and 25 percent MSM tests annually.

Maybe also in the future free hometesting for STIs and HIV can be an important method to have more men tested for these infections. Finding MSM who canhave use for PrEP or PEP will also be an issue in the future.”