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How nonprofit organizations in St. Petersburg worked during the COVID-19 pandemic

How the work of HIV services nonprofits in St. Petersburg changed during the pandemic

Due to the restrictions introduced during the COVID-19 pandemic, nonprofit organizations had to change their methods of working. Most employees began to work remotely and in-person support groups were suspended. Consultations with clients were conducted by phone or in the office according to a schedule and by request. Client needs changed as well. 

Under the project “St. Petersburg and Bishkek: Key Groups and Priorities of HIV and TB Prevention” during the COVID-19 pandemic more than 200 gift cards, 3000 condoms and 200 tests were provided to organizations that support HIV-positive people. 

We spoke about COVID-related changes with Irina Maslova from the Astarta Foundation and Elena Lepeshonok from the Diakonia Foundation. 

Irina Maslova, Astarta

First of all, rules, norms and protocols were established for working in the office to see clients. Safety recommendations were developed for the core group in the growing COVID epidemic. In mid-March we purchased disinfection supplies — masks, gloves, and equipment for disinfecting the air indoors. 

From March 22, most of the employees were ordered to work remotely (only by phone). In-person meetings were suspended for all nine support groups that had been running at Astarta. The work was organized by client request and according to a schedule so as to avoid clients running into each other at the office and allow time to disinfect the space. 

Starting April 4, with support from the AIDS Center, we were the first in the city to deliver ART drugs for HIV-positive patients in two categories: those 65 and over and women with babies and young children. We used our volunteers with cars to make these trips, observing social distancing during the deliveries. 

Since the beginning of April we began to provide food packages for our core group of clients, as more than 80% lost work and had no funds on which to live. For women with children we provided food such as formula, kasha and jarred baby food. Individuals who are trans, sex workers and migrants began coming to get food packages from us, and they were immediately tested for HIV. From the first eight individuals, three tested positive for HIV. Getting their rapid test results confirmed was a problem. Thanks to cooperation with the H Clinic we were able to resolve this issue. 

The main requests in the context of quarantine restrictions in our city were: contraceptives (condoms, lubricant, wet wipes), PPE (masks, gloves, antiseptics), food, children’s food, access to testing, prescriptions for ART for newly diagnosed individuals, and tests for latent infections (unfortunately, trusted doctors were not able to receive patients according to our instructions.) People suddenly lost their homes and it was necessary to move them to a safe place. In the beginning of May, we were able to rent an entire mini-hotel and place six trans individuals, migrants, sex workers and three women with children. By June 1, the problem of housing had been resolved for everyone staying there. 

After quarantine restrictions were lifted our coverage of the target group increased. Mothers with children and elderly individuals still call with various questions. For some people we became the only possibility to survive the difficult period of restrictions connected with the epidemic. 

Elena Lepeshonok, Diakonia 

During the period COVID-19 was spreading, our organization changed our way of working. We stopped our in-person reception of those in need and our street homeless feeding program. Consultations moved to phone, and providing food packages switched to home delivery. 

During the COVID-19 pandemic, the quarantine measures led to the collapse of economic activity in a number of industries. This led to growing unemployment and a lower standard of living among ordinary people. Thus the most pressing need is providing emergency humanitarian and social assistance to people who have nothing to eat and nowhere to live. We observed an increase in requests from people who had previously been self-sufficient. The first thing we tried to do was provide people with food, clothing, shoes, hygiene supplies, social consultations and human communication. 

From March 30 to June 14, 2020, we conducted telephone consultations on social issues and delivered food packages to people with disabilities, elderly people, and families in difficult life situations. From June 15, 2020, we resumed in-person consultations on social issues and gave out food packages, clothing, and shoes to homeless individuals and families in difficult life situations. 

During quarantine, the Committee on Law and Order forbade feeding homeless individuals and providing support on our Mercy Bus. This strongly impacted the target group. Homeless people have been hit harder by the quarantine measures than anyone else. 

The beneficiaries are very grateful for the support they received. Says one: “Our family thanks the Diakonia Foundation for providing help. It was very nice not only to receive much-needed help, but to understand that there are people ready to selflessly help those in need. Thank you! And God bless you.”

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