“Balka: Women, HIV, and Drug Use in Ukraine” short harm reduction documentary

Boosting the signal on this 35-minute documentary. (Note: If you’re unfamiliar with the subject matter, then I recommend reading the short discussion guide when you watch it.) Description:

The fall of the Soviet Union led to a surge in injecting drug use and skyrocketing rates of HIV spread through shared injecting equipment. A documentary film directed by Anya Meksin and Leeza Meksin and produced by Sophie Pinkham, “Balka” details the lives of women struggling with drug use and HIV in Ukraine.

Through the course of the film the audience meets Zina and Marina, best friends and active drug users about to discover their HIV status; Tanya, HIV-positive mother of two who is receiving drug treatment but whose husband continues to use drugs; and Galya, a former user who now works as a peer-to-peer outreach worker.

The film was made by the International Harm Reduction Development Program. From their site:

About the International Harm Reduction Development Program

The International Harm Reduction Development Program (IHRD), part of the Open Society Public Health Program, works to advance the health and human rights of people who use drugs. Through grantmaking, capacity building, and advocacy, IHRD works to reduce HIV, fatal overdose, and other drug-related harms; to decrease abuse by police and in places of detention; and to improve the quality of health services. IHRD supports community monitoring and advocacy, legal empowerment, and strategic litigation. IHRD’s work is based on the understanding that people unwilling or unable to abstain from illicit drug use can make positive changes to protect their health and that of their families and communities.

What Is Harm Reduction?

Harm reduction is a range of evidence-based approaches— such as overdose prevention, peer counseling and support, syringe access programs, antiretroviral treatment, or provision of medications that reduce craving for and use of opiates— which recognize that people unable or unwilling to abstain from illicit drug use can still make positive choices to protect their own health in addition to the health of their families and communities. Harm reduction can also include measures to reduce adverse consequences of drug policy and enforcement, including police extortion, detention without due process, mass incarceration, as well as suffering disease exposure and rights violations resulting from disproportionate punishments or penalties.

More information on harm reduction principles and common strategies can be found on the International Harm Reduction Association’s website.

It’s worth noting that harm reduction is an important concept in sex workers’ rights activism, as well.


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About Clarisse Thorn

Clarisse Thorn is a Chicago-based, feminist, sex-positive activist and educator. Personal blog at clarissethorn.com; follow her on Twitter @clarissethorn; you can also buy her awesome book about pickup artists or her awesome best-of collection, The S&M Feminist.
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2 Responses to “Balka: Women, HIV, and Drug Use in Ukraine” short harm reduction documentary

  1. Nancy Green says:

    Harm reduction has worked to reduce risk and provide a first step to treatment.

  2. Jadey says:

    I missed this post entirely! Bad Jadey. Will watch when I get the chance later this week.

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