There are not many people who speak out about the problems of their society. Stereotypes often get in the way of this. Pulod Jamolov is one of those who is not afraid of the truth. He is one of the few who was open about his status. And by being a role model he brings hope and strength to other people’s lives. His organization “Spin Plus” became an epicenter for drug harm prevention in Tajikistan. Pulod Jamolov represents interests of the community at the National Coordination Committee to counteract HIV/AIDS, and in many regional structures such as the Central Asian Network of People living with HIV and Eurasian network of people who use drugs.
How an economist became an NGO worker
Pulod is an economist by education, but after graduation from university his career did not take off: Tajikistan was in the midst of civil war, the borders were transparent, and drugs started flowing in. Although Pulod thinks that he was raised properly, he as a young man wanted to experience something new and unknown. The ‘wild 90s’ became a true test for him and his peers. They started with marijuana, then switched to heroin. He tried everything, and several times was literally pulled from the other side of life. He overdosed several times and experienced clinical death.
The last time, I opened my eyes and I saw the faces of my close ones, and I don’t know how but I suddenly thought How many more times do I need to bother them all?” Pulod recalls the hard times – his experience lasted for a full 12 years, but then he decided to stop it once and for all.
Although he went for a rehab at a narcology center, this time he refused the treatment to deal with these issues himself. At that time, at the department where he was undergoing treatment, they opened a rehabilitation center for drug addicts. Thanks to the international organization, “Equal to Equal,” the program started its activities. Drug addicts organized a support group to help each other deal with the addiction. Pulod decided to help others. As a consultant on chemical addiction he used to visit the center and tell others who suffered how he overcame the pain.
Really, I needed this work more myself, because by working with other people I helped myself to spend time and not think about drugs. Consulting others, I made myself believe in myself,” confided our hero.
Elena Hasanova, program coordinator of the Public Organization “Spin Plus” and previously head of department at the Republic Drug Center, tells us how she met Pulod in 1998.
Pulod was one of the few who not only went through the rehabilitation program, but became its initiator. In 2003, he and his friends organized a group of mutual support. It was called MOST. It was an abbreviation from “We Stay Clean”. I worked as a narcologist and Pulod and I regularly communicated through our work. Slowly our joint work grew into friendship, recalls Elena Saidovna. When I left the healthcare system in 2007, Pulod invited me to join “Spin Plus,” where I have been consulting people addicted to drugs for 10 years.”
Society of positive and drug addicted people
Pulod remembers the story of how “Spin Plus” was created in detail:
After some time, members of “MOST” learned that they were HIV positive. We used to gather at the Republic center for AIDS prevention to decide what to do next. Some started taking drugs, some died, some are still with us. We started publishing the newspaper Svecha (candle). We primarily covered articles on drugs and life with HIV. Then we decided to bring those two issues together in the frame of activities of one organization and called it Spin Plus. It is an abbreviation from “Community of Positive and Drug Addicted People”. The “plus” in the name means that we are optimistic about everything,” he explained.
The public organization opened a rehabilitation center. It was supported by the Central Asian HIV prevention program. People addicted to drugs went through a 12-step rehabilitation program. Nowadays many of the organization’s employees are those who went through the rehabilitation themselves. They also started training people for ARV-therapy. People from “Spin Plus” were consulting those who came to us and those started the therapy. People stayed even up to a year, some for six months, some for three months. It was completely free, and that’s why people started coming.
At a certain moment, we realized that rehabilitation is not the only way for people. Because anyone, whether we want it or not, can start using drugs again. Besides, we noticed that that the HIV epidemy started spreading. So, we realized that harm prevention is an important part of our work and life,” noted Pulod.
According to Pulod Jamolov, the harm prevention program, and, the method of replacement supportive methadone therapy allows for taking active drug users from the streets. It pulls them out from the shadow and makes assistance of social, psychological, and narcological services accessible.
People living with HIV are often faced with human rights breaches due to their HIV-positive status. They can be refused from medical assistance, they can be fired without a reason, their children can be refused a kindergarten or school with other children. Their families and friends turn away from them. By these or other acts some are refused from human rights like the right to be free from derogatory labeling, the right for healthcare, the right for fair justice, and many other rights. Striving to defend the rights of people with drug addiction, people with HIV, we – the activists and everyone who identifies as the community – will promote the programs. These programs reach out to an individual whether that person is in the basement of his or her house, or behind garages, or in a hospital. To save each person’s life and to make it kinder and happier,” wrote Pulod on his Facebook page.
Through the organization, they organized Drop-In centers, where people can shower, clean their clothes, and have a bite to eat for free. The centers have rooms to get sterile syringes to prevent infecting oneself with HIV or hepatitis through a dirty syringe. They can also get access to educational materials.
There are four such points: three in Dushanbe and one in Vahdat. The social and outreach workers bring in people, educate them about the importance to test for HIV, hepatitis type C and prevention measures. Later at narcological centers they started the supporting replacement therapy program that allows people addicted to drugs to use methadone to slowly decrease the dosage of drug administration. The way Pulod puts it, everyone has to come to this treatment mindfully. It is important that a person keeps communicating and he or she feels support from those in the community.
Yesterday, during my visit to a drop-in center for harm prevention, the police brought a young woman dying from an overdose. They found her somewhere in the city. She immediately recovered with the help of naloxone. She stood up and went away. Alive! They did not take her to narcology, not a hospital or emergency room. They brought her here, because it is the only place in Tajikistan where they can save a human’s life for free, not asking anything in exchange…” (excerpt from a post from the community on Facebook).
“Spin Plus” actively interacts with drug and AIDS centers, and police departments. “We used to go to police departments ourselves, told them about our organization and our stories, and met with those who used to arrest us. Then the district police offices started coming and bringing people. The would say something like here is a drug addict, work with him. They brought people who had overdosed on drugs. They would find a person during their raids and would not know what to do with that person. So, they would bring the person to us. Once a militia captain was awarded an honor “For socially active life standing” when he brought a person in who had overdosed to us. By doing so, he saved that person’s life. We solemnly congratulated him on the achievement. We work together with militia. People come to our center without fear of the militia because they won’t be punished here,” shared Pulod.
Pulod noted that his organization’s mission is mainly to help drug addicted and HIV positive people to live in society without fear. Their hope is that those who are in the shadows will step out and come to the organization. There are about 2500 people who regularly use the organization’s services.
To be strong and inspire
In the past 10 years, thanks to Spin Plus and other public organizations in Tajikistan, they have managed to achieve a lot. The state cannot do the prevention and treatment of HIV without help of third parties. The spread of the HIV epidemic among drug addicts and other vulnerable groups has been going down. This is the result of complex work: support of the Global Fund to fight AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria, UNDP and other international organizations help extend harm prevention programs, replacement therapy, and HIV treatment. Public organizations work in the country to give people access to services preventing and treating HIV. However, there are still quite serious problems. The foremost problem is that due to cultural and religious issues there is a major stigma. A stigma towards HIV and drugs. It’s a stigma everywhere, but in Tajikistan it is particularly acute. That is why Spin Plus finds it difficult to change society’s viewpoints about the communities they work with.
They often say, that saving the sinking is primarily the problem of the sinking. Maybe it is so,” notes our hero. “I just see that we relate differently to what we are doing. It’s not an order, we are doing it for ourselves, for our society. We don’t do it to spend the grants, you know? We even have money left on our accounts because we try to spend carefully and efficiently, maximizing the benefit for overall good.”
Defending the rights of the vulnerable
In addition to the considerable efforts that Pulod Jamolov undertakes at “Spin Plus” he also advocates for the rights of drug users and HIV positive people. He is a member of coordination committee on action against HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria in the Republic of Tajikistan, and a member of the working group to design the National program against the HIV epidemic in the Republic of Tajikistan in 2017 – 2020. He also took part in design of the law “On counteraction against HIV/AIDS.”
In 2010 “Spin Plus” received an award from the International AIDS society “Red Ribbon.” This award is granted to organizations and communities that heroically fight against the HIV/AIDS epidemic in their countries. The team used the money received from the award as a down payment for a loan to acquire the premises for people with drug addiction. In addition, the team works with HIV positive people in penitentiary system. There they do prevention work among the imprisoned, test them and help with treatment. Additionally, they implement a project to eradicate the stigma and discrimination among medical workers. In general, “Spin Plus” and its executive director have an enormous amount of work to do.
I can’t even imagine what would I have been doing. Maybe I would long be dead,” confides Pulod. “Our joint work helps me live and help other members of our society. Our relations are not like in other organizations. We don’t have a strict hierarchy. You do not feel the leadership. We have to remember who we are and how we came to this point.”
With help of public organization “Spin Plus” and other non-governmental, state and international organizations in Tajikistan, it’s been possible to help curb the HIV epidemic among the drug addicts and other vulnerable groups.