South Asia Regional Workshop On the Prevention of HIV Related to Drug Use

Photo by sassenfrazz17th-18th, March 09 - Kathmandu, Nepal

Response Beyond Borders – Over 100 delegates present from the SAARC countries, Iran and Afghanistan are attending the South Asian Workshop on poverty, drug use and HIV. The aim of the South Asian workshop is to bring together parliamentarians, civil society organisations and affected populations (including drug users) to review the challenges to be faced in affecting policy change, reducing stigma and ensuring effective action and interventions to address the gaps in HIV Prevention among risk populations. “HIV does not respect borders so we need to build alliances which go beyond country perimeters”, said Tariq Zafar, the Chair of the workshop. The action plans developed will build on current capacity, identify gaps and respond co-operatively across borders.

With its young democracies and political turbulence the region is all the more vulnerable due to its proximity to the drug-producing Golden Triangle and Golden Crescent regions. Added to this the existing HIV epidemic is adding pressure to the already overburdened health systems. The responses to HIV have seen significant involvement of affected communities, with the notable exception of drug users who are both marginalised and stigmatised. “The position of women drug users is especially neglected, we are a forgotten people”, says Parina Subba, Programme Director of Dristi Nepal. If societies do not address the concentrated epidemic among drug users, the burden of disease will reach breaking point.

This workshop is a follow-up to The First Asian Consultation on the prevention of HIV related to Drug Use, which was held in Goa, India in January 2008. The Goa Consultation recommended that in order to respond effectively to the HIV epidemic, policies that effectively address the health risks associated with drug use should be introduced in all countries. Measures that reduce the stigma and discrimination experienced by drug users and people affected by HIV, should also be taken, to enable provision of effective treatment.

As an outcome of the Goa consultation, three workshops are organised to develop more detailed action plans for specific regions – South, Central and South Eastern Asia. The South East Asia workshop was held in Phnom Penh Cambodia on 8-9, October 2008. The Central Asian workshop takes place in early summer 2009.

The South Asia workshop will focus on the following:

1. Highlight the Continuum of Care and Services and identify capacity, gaps and opportunities for collaborative growth across the region.

2. Identify, review and respond to challenges faced in providing services to emerging populations i.e. wives of drug users, women drug users and young people.

3. Identify, discuss and develop an action plan to ameliorate the criminalisation and incarceration of Drug Users in prisons and custodial settings.

4. Effectively respond to the hepatitis C co-infection epidemic among drug users in Asia.

5. Support parliamentarians in their leadership in introducing enabling policies and achieving a balance between human rights, access to health and law enforcement in Asia and provide parliamentarians and activists with evidence to support their campaigns for change.

Ishdeep Kohli-CNS