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Macedonia: Group Wins HIV and Rights Award

Advocacy on Behalf of Sex Workers, Drug Users Honored at International AIDS Conference

(Vienna) - Healthy Options Project Skopje (HOPS) is the recipient of the 2010 international Award for Action on HIV/AIDS and Human Rights, the Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network and Human Rights Watch announced today. The award, which recognizes outstanding individuals and organizations that protect the rights and dignity of people living with or affected by HIV/AIDS, was presented in Vienna on July 20, 2010, at the XVIII International AIDS Conference.

"Sex workers routinely face human rights abuses, including the discriminatory denial of health services, arbitrary detention by police, harassment, and sexual and physical violence," said Richard Elliott, executive director of the Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network. "This award recognizes the tremendous contribution of HOPS to seeking justice for sex workers and improving their access to health, social, and legal services."

Started in 1997 in Skopje, Macedonia, HOPS is a citizen association that initially operated as Macedonia's first needle exchange program. Since then, it has successfully operated a range of harm-reduction programs, preventing the spread of HIV/AIDS and other sexually transmitted and blood-borne infections. It also operates programs to foster social reintegration and re-socialization among youth and vulnerable groups such as drug users and sex workers and their families.

"I am honored to accept this award on behalf of Healthy Options Project Skopje," said Vlatko Dekov, executive director of HOPS. "I am proud that our advocacy has contributed to creating policy changes but furthermore, that our outreach activities and drop-in center have encouraged safer behaviors among Macedonian sex workers and helped create a sense of community and greater empowerment for sex workers, people who use drugs, and other socially marginalized people."

HOPS carried out a video advocacy campaign following a November 2008 police raid targeting sex workers. Authorities forcibly tested those they detained for HIV and hepatitis C virus and published photos and videos of the detained sex workers. The campaign drew international attention and opened a dialogue with law enforcement officials to reduce the number of violent incidents committed against sex workers by police officers and improved police response when sex workers experience violence at the hands of others.

"The International AIDS Conference presents a forum to focus worldwide attention on human rights abuses against sex workers and the courageous work of HOPS," said Joseph Amon, director of the Health and Human Rights Program at Human Rights Watch. "Police violence against sex workers increases their vulnerability to HIV infection and drives them away from care and treatment."

The Awards for Action on HIV/AIDS and Human Rights were established in 2002 by the Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network and Human Rights Watch. An award is presented annually to one Canadian and one international recipient. This year's Canadian award was given last month to Ralf Jürgens, a lawyer and international AIDS and human rights advocate who has worked for more than 25 years to defend and promote human rights, with a particular focus on the rights of people who use drugs and people in prison or other closed settings.

To learn more about HOPS, please visit:

To learn more about the November 2008 raid and arrest of sex workers, please visit:

To see past recipients of the Award for Action on HIV/AIDS and Human Rights, please visit:

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