Despite the beneﬁts from harm reduction,approaches to HIV prevention among Injecting Drug Users (IDU) are low in Asia and they need to be scaled up. Aforum of parliamentarians, policymakersand drug users was staged during theﬁrst Asian Consultation on the Preventionof HIV Related to Drug Use to tackle theissues of criminalization, stigma and discrimination that marginalize drug users, drive them underground, and deter their access to HIV prevention and treatment services.
Drug users are treated as criminalsand sub-human beings
Mr. Bijaya Pandey Drug User Representative of Nepal
During the panel, several drug usersinformed the participants of the reality inthe ground. Opioid Substitution Therapy(OST) and needle-syringe exchangeprogrammes are not operating andillegal in most Asian countries, only fewcountries support these programmes.While UN is aiming for 80 percentUniversal Access of IDU population by2010, the criminalization of IDUs and thelack of policy framework on drugs meanthat IDUs and service providers are atrisk of accessing or providing existingservices. “Drug users are treatedas criminals and sub-human beings.These serve as reminders of the realityface by us who need these services”,underlined Mr. Bijaya Pandey, DrugUser Representative of Nepal.
The ‘war on drugs’ has caused therise in HIV infections among IDUs
Mr. Fredy Edi Member of the Indonesian Network of People Who Use Drugs
“The ‘war on drugs’ is also a war onhealth. Many IDUs are told that theymust stop taking drugs before they canreceive Anti-Retroviral Treatment (ART)from service centers”, added Mr. FredyEdi, Member of the Indonesian Networkof People Who Use Drugs. There is anevidence that the ‘war on drugs’ hascaused the rise in HIV and hepatitisinfections among IDUs.
Stigma and discrimination intensifywhen we talk about drugs
Ms. Tripti TandonLawyer’s Collective in India
“Once IDUs are incarcerated, they losetheir freedom to health care. The stigmaand discrimination that are associatedwith People Living With HIV (PLWHIV)are intense, but when we talk aboutdrugs, the discrimination intensifies.PLWHIV and drug users are underservedof health care”, said Ms. Tripti Tandon of the Lawyer’s Collective in India, addingthat her own organization ﬁghts hardagainst stigma to ensure that peoplewith HIV and in prison have access toART. “After three years of hard labor,we succeeded; however, this createdan uproar in the community because of that perception”, she informed.
When the issue of female IDUs israised, the problem is greater
Ms. Tamara Speed Treatment and Policy Manager of the Australian Intravenous League
When the issues associated with IDUsare discussed, stigma and discriminationare among the main concerns. “Whenthe issue of female IDUs is raised, theproblem is greater. When quitting failsand women relapse, higher level of stigmaand discrimination are being placedupon them. Services for IDUs are mainlymale-oriented. I express concern over the lack of harm reduction approaches,drop-in centers and programmes tocater women’s needs. Women needto be informed of the services thatcan meet their special needs. Illiteracylimit womens’ understanding of their basic rights”, said Ms. Tamara Speed,Treatment and Policy Manager of theAustralian Intravenous League.Governments want drug users to beproductive citizens yet they are treatedwith disdain. What drug users needfrom the parliamentarians are supportsfor treatment, for diversity of servicesand for ﬂexibility of mechanisms usedto access those services.
Parliamentarians to forge partnershipswith NGOs
Mr. Paul Bekkers AIDS Ambassador of Netherlands
Mr. Paul Bekkers, AIDS Ambassador of Netherlands, agreeing that theparliamentarians have an importantrole to play in the ﬁght against drugabuse, said, “Politicians should helpto forge partnerships with NGOs tomeet the Universal Access targets by2010. Meaningful consultation such asthis is rare in Asia, where marginalizedcommunities feel that they can sharetheir views without being discriminated.Improving the collaboration betweenIDUs and the government ofﬁcials isan important step towards developingeffective interventions”.The key speakers of the forum were Ms.Doreen Massey, MP (UK); Mr. RoqueAblan Jr., MP (Philippines); Senator SMZafar of Pakistan; and Mr. Shiv Khare,Executive Director of AFPPD.
Left to right: Mr. Bijaya Pandey, Drug User Representative of Nepal; Mr. Fredy Edi, Member of the Indonesian Network of People Who Use Drugs; Senator SM Zafar of Pakistan; Mr. NurulEddy Pariang, MP (Indonesia); Mr. Paul Bekkers, AIDS Ambassador of Netherlands; and Ms. Tripti Tandon of the Lawyer’s Collective in India. Photo: Response Beyond Borders
“Politicians should help forge partnerships with NGOs to successfully meet the Universal Access targets by 2010. Improving the collaboration between IDUs and the government ofﬁcials is an important step towardsdeveloping sustainable and effective interventions.”
Mr. Paul Bekkers, AIDS Ambassador of Netherlands
Parliamentarians, Policymakersand Drug User Forum