In 1996, Médecins sans Frontières (MSF) indicated that an immense, socially disruptive crisis would occur in Eastern Europe and Central Asia (EECA) if no steps were taken to stop the HIV/AIDS epidemic in these countries. At that time, none of the other international relief organisations or NGOs considered it their duty to develop activities in these countries. MSF, having an office in Moscow, initiated a prevention programme for HIV/AIDS and sexually transmitted infections (STIs) in Russia. Within a short time, programmes materialised and a range of activities was developed and implemented. By contacting experts in various fields in several countries, MSF was able to make the most of international expertise and experience and create a practical and efficient international network. Through this working method MSF gained experience in developing HIV/AIDS policies and implementing projects aimed at prevention and care in this specific region. Moreover, the MSF policy helped to initiate and stimulate processes of change in health policy.
Other states in the region surrounding Russia noticed the activities developed by MSF and contacted the Moscow office with requests for assistance and help. Programmes were started up in Mongolia and Ukraine, but other requests had to be postponed. The staff in the Moscow office recognised the need for support, but under the structure in place at that time it was impossible to develop more activities. Further expansion would have gone beyond the goals of the organisation.
One of the solutions that would enable further expansion of the HIV/AIDS programme was to set up a new, independent organisation that would focus specifically on the prevention of the AIDS epidemic in EECA. The head office of MSF in Amsterdam supported the idea and gave the Moscow staff the opportunity to develop a business plan. And so the plans for a new organisation – AIDS Foundation East-West (AFEW) – took shape.
After the business plan was presented in September 2000, the MSF Board in the Netherlands gave the Moscow staff permission to further crystallise the organisational set-up. In January 2001 AFEW was officially founded and by the end of 2001 the transition from MSF to AFEW was complete. AFEW was officially launched on December 1, World AIDS Day, 2001.