Punitive Responses To Injecting Drug Use Impede HIV Prevention Efforts

The Beirut Declaration on HIV and Injecting Drug Use, launched in April 2011, by Harm Reduction International (HRI), calls on world leaders to implement, scale up, and finance evidence based  harm reduction programs that  address the role of injecting drug use in the AIDS epidemic. These include needle and syringe programmes and opioid substitution therapy, in both--communities and prisons.(Source: Harm Reduction International)

The Declaration, which has been endorsed by over 200 leading international NGOs as well as The Lancet as a key document for informed decision making, calls on government leaders, participating at a UN meeting on HIV/AIDS in New York this week, to address the role of injecting drug use in the AIDS epidemic.

Thirty years into the AIDS epidemic, injecting drug use is the main driver of up to 80 percent of new HIV infections in Eastern Europe, Central Asia and parts of South East Asia. In Russia, over the past decade, new HIV infections have increased from 100, 000 to one million. Some 80 per cent of those infected are under 30 years of age. One hundred and fifty-eight countries and territories report injecting drug use, yet almost half of them still lack essential health services..

According to Rick Lines, Executive Director of HRI, “World leaders have no choice but to make the right call on injecting drugs and HIV at this week`s meeting. It is as simple as this: take action, or continue allowing people to die. We have the science, we have the evidence, and we have the moral and ethical high ground. Needle and syringe programmes and opioid substitution therapy save lives. But political commitment behind these proven HIV prevention measures is not sufficient. Too often looking tough on drugs takes precedence over the protection of the most vulnerable. Unfortunately, in order to look tough on drugs, some states are willing to gamble with millions of lives.”

People who use drugs have to be helped in a proactive manner to help them quit. This cannot be achieved by treating them as criminals and policing them. As of now, they face stigma, discrimination and human rights violations as law enforcement and abusive drug control measures continue to trump public health in country after country around the world.  As the new report from the Global Commission on Drug Policy has revealed, punitive responses to drugs have been proven to impede HIV prevention efforts.

“The International AIDS Society (IAS) reiterates call for action for an international drug policy based on evidence", said Bertrand Audoin, IAS Executive Director. "IAS calls for a drug policy based on scientific evidence and respect for human rights, not ideology. There is now a large body of evidence which demonstrates clearly that the criminalization of illegal drugs is fuelling the HIV epidemic and is resulting in overwhelmingly negative health and social consequences."

“Poor people suffer more drug-related harms - more HIV, more health problems generally, and more incarceration. To address poverty and inequality in resource poor countries and communities, and to stop HIV transmission, a focus on health rather than criminalization is both the most effective - and the most ethical - response", said Susie McLean, Senior Advisor at the International HIV/AIDS Alliance.

According to HRI, funding for harm reduction works out to three US cents a day per person injecting drugs, and this requires a twenty-fold scale up in funding to mount a response commensurate with the magnitude of the epidemic among people who inject drugs.

 “This is a global public health issue requiring a global, fully funded response. But what we are seeing instead, is the policing of an epidemic, the imprisonment of those in need of help, and billions wasted on futile efforts to rid the world of drugs. Zero new infections are achievable – let us aim towards that” said Mary Ann Torres, Senior Policy Advisor at the International Council of AIDS Service Organizations (ICASO).

"HIV infections will continue to rise as long as drug users continue to live in fear of police harassment and abuse that results from visiting needle exchange or a methadone programs, said Kasia
Malinowska of the Open Society Foundations. “The current policy environment must change for public health to be effective."

To facilitate a more intensified response to the HIV epidemic in the drug-using community, the Beirut Declaration is calling for a comprehensive review and reform of ineffective, expensive, drug policies, from a punitive criminal justice approach to one rooted in public health and human rights-based principles. Specifically, it calls for the amendment of laws criminalizing the possession of drugs for personal use and the carrying of paraphernalia such as sterile needles.

Published in:
Citizen News Service (CNS), India/Thailand
Wikio News, Africa 
Elites TV News, California, USA
Health Dev.net, Thailand 
World Care Council, UK
HIV Positive Men.com

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