Former Prisoners Lead Efforts To Improve HIV Detection Among People Who Inject Drugs

Speeches Shim

Tuesday, December 1, 2020
Serhiy Novosad works to motivate people who inject drugs and their peers to get tested for HIV and provides HIV self-test kits.

Serhiy Novosad is an HIV case finder for the NGO Penitentiary Initiative in Mykolaiv Oblast.  As part of USAID’s Serving Life project, Serhiy works to motivate people who inject drugs (PWID) and their peers to get tested for HIV and provides HIV self-test kits. He refers those who test positive for a second test to confirm their status and helps them access care, if needed.

Serhiy enjoys his work and stands out as an exceptional case finder, which is in large part due to his own life experience. Serhiy had a difficult childhood. After his father died, his mother struggled to raise six children on her own. At the age of 10, Serhiy and his siblings were placed in an orphanage. As a teenager, he went down the slippery slope of alcohol and drugs, which ultimately led him to committing robberies, for which he served time in a prison colony.

When Serhiy’s sister died of AIDS, he was devastated. He reflected on his life and promised himself that he would try to avoid the same fate. After serving his time in prison, he returned to Mykolaiv and enrolled in a medication-assisted therapy program to begin his path toward sobriety and away from crime. Despite his best efforts, Serhiy committed another criminal infraction, resulting in two years of probation and mandated visits to a probation center in Mykolaiv.

During one of his routine visits to the probation center, Serhiy learned about USAID’s Serving Life project. The probation officer encouraged him to take an HIV risk assessment and referred him to the project counseling room. During a session with a social worker, Serhiy shared his life story, acknowledged the importance of regularly getting tested for HIV, and offered to invite friends with similar experiences to go to the center for testing. The social worker was so impressed with Serhiy’s enthusiasm and commitment that he encouraged him to become an HIV case finder for the project. It was his first job and changed his life.

With support from the U.S. President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR), USAID’s Serving Life activity promotes an innovative approach to accelerate HIV-case finding and direct PWID to obtain care. It involves soon-to-be-released prisoners and/or ex-prisoners with injection drug use history who become case-finders. Serving Life selects and trains HIV case finders to use oral HIV self-tests and to canvass designated PWID communities offering rapid oral testing to PWIDs. The approach prioritizes communities with large numbers of PWID and low HIV testing coverage and offers them HIV testing. HIV case finders also recommend that PWID’s sexual and injecting partners take the test. According to a 2019 integrated bio-behavioral survey in Ukraine, 22.6 percent of PWID are HIV-positive, but only 56 percent of them know their status. Any person that tests HIV-positive is requested to take a second test at a local public AIDS center. Clients that test negative are referred to prevention services, including medication-assisted therapy and needle and syringe exchange programs.