How the Pandemic Forced Change in Providing HIV Services in Romania

The American Journal of Managed Care® recently spoke with Nicoleta Dascalu, founding member and advocacy manager of Asociaţia Română Anti-SIDA (ARAS; Romanian Association Against AIDS) to learn more about ARAS, which was founded in April of 1992, just 3 years after the fall of communism in the country.

Asociaţia Română Anti-SIDA (ARAS; Romanian Association Against AIDS) was founded on April 10, 1992, just 3 years after the fall of communism, making it the first such organization in the country following a time when HIV was not officially acknowledged nor prevention of HIV and sexually transmitted infections discussed. Click here for our first video from this interview.

To see more from our series this year on global HIV/AIDS organizations, please check out our main HIV page to see interviews with Zimbabwe’s CeSHHAR; Canada’s Bruce House; Helen Bygrave, MD, from Médecins Sans Frontières’ (Doctors Without Borders); Poland’s National Center for AIDS; the New Zealand AIDS Foundation; and the UK’s The Food Chain. Also stay tuned for our upcoming interview with the Children’s HIV Association, also based in the UK.

Transcript

How have you had to adjust to your services during the pandemic?

That's a good question. Because the fact is that during the pandemic, there was only one service that closed, and that was the outreach ambulance. We have a van that provides mainly harm-reduction services for intravenous drug users, and we had to stop that one service for about 2 months.

I don't know if you are aware of what the situation was in Romania? Starting in March 2020, there were 2 months of what is called state of emergency. During a state of emergency, you are not allowed to get out except for very good reasons, and you had to fill in a declaration and sign it. The police could stop you in the street, and so on. So, it was impossible to have people go to our outreach regions and to distribute syringes and other materials. We stopped that service for 2 months, but we continued all other services.

We continued our drop-in center, where people could come and take syringes themselves. We continued our social services, our methadone distribution services, too. And we adapted all these services, first of all, to protect the staff—the people who are paid and lots of volunteers, because we also work with volunteers—and also to protect the beneficiaries. We bought and distributed masks, gloves, disinfectants, other materials that they needed; we helped our beneficiaries to fill in the forms, because some of them are illiterate. Our social workers worked with them to fill the forms so that they could come to our services.

We didn't have a lot of time to think about this. We just did the things as they arrived. What are we doing today, what's next? It was the state of emergency, then it was the state of alert, which has been ongoing since May last year.

And we have kept some of our services in the same way that they were in May last year—like the schedule, like the teams—there are some changes that stay the same, because we don't know exactly what the situation is. It's a continuous adaptation every week.