“This is a momentous occasion for the groups as it is the first time that they have been given the opportunity to speak at a public event attended by government health and drug enforcement officials and NGO advocates” said Roberto Nebrida, Executive Director of PHANSuP. Groups for people who use drugs are rarely seen in public in the Philippines, a country which has stringent anti-drug laws.
Studies have shown rising HIV prevalence among drug users across the
Philippines. The forum was held in Cebu, where a 2011 study by the Department of Health found an HIV prevalence of 53% among people who inject drugs. The aim of the forum was to instigate a human rights based and community-driven approach to tackling the HIV epidemic among drug users in the city.
“While we thank the government for its current support, we would like to call for a review of existing policies to recognise drug users’ human rights and acknowledge that drug use is a health issue first and foremost” said Juno Pegarido, one of the group leaders. He continued, “We are calling for the provision of a comprehensive set of interventions to curb HIV and drug use, and for the greater and more meaningful engagement of drug users in the HIV response”.
The forum was attended by members of the Department of Health, as well as local officials, and representatives from the Philippine National AIDS Council, drug enforcement and police agencies, and national and international development organisations.
The community leaders and the participants identified and agreed on next steps to create a community-driven approach to HIV and drug use in Cebu.
The forum was organised by PHANSuP, the Cebu City Health Department and the Cebuplus Association with technical support from AIDS Society of the Philippines and UNAIDS. It was attended by experts from Therapeutic Health Services, a non-profit organisation based in the United States. Funding for the event was provided by the International HIV/AIDS Alliance.
This is a momentous occasion for groups of people who inject drugs