The meeting’s official theme was ‘A step forward’, a modest claim given the progress seen in the region in recent years. Much of this progress is attributable to the focused, strategic efforts of MENAHRA, along with the incredible tenacity of civil society implementing programmes for drug users in challenging settings, and the emergence of enlightened policies and leadership in a number of countries.
Nonetheless, significant challenges remain, and the region is still a long way from universal access, with less than half of the 21 countries in the region having needle and syringe programmes, and only a handful that have expanded them nationwide.
While attitudes towards drug use are highly contested in the region, as elsewhere in the world, the conference included a broad range of social actors including politicians, the media and religious leaders, and carried an overwhelming message of respect for dignity and compassion in responding to the potential harms of drug use. A highlight of the meeting was the commitment by Dr Ghassan Moukheiber, an MP and member of the Lebanese parliament's Human Rights Committee, to put harm reduction on the agenda of the Lebanese parliament.
The Alliance co-hosted a session on 'Policy and programming: from global to local' with the International Drugs Policy Consortium (IDPC), International Harm Reduction Association (IHRA) and Eurasian Harm Reduction Network (EHRN). The session featured a presentation from Liudmila Shulga of Alliance Ukraine on the extraordinary work done by civil society in Ukraine during Alliance Ukraine’s stewardship of the country's Global Fund grant, as well as presentations on international drug policy from Ann Fordham of IDPC, on the state of harm reduction from Catherine Cook of IHRA, and on regional networking from Katerina Jiresova of EHRN. Alliance partners in the North Africa Regional Program, Association Tunisienne de Lutte (ATL, Tunisia) and Soins Infirmiers et Développement Communautaire (SIDC, Lebanon) presented on their experience of programming in their respective countries.
The region has seen remarkable success in recent years