Jamra primary scholl for children affected by HIV/AIDS, drugs or poverty, Senegal (c) Nell Freeman/Alliance Participants in the Photovioce project, Ecuador © Marcela Nievas for the Alliance
  • Home > News > Health services are not optional extras

Health services are not optional extras


Distributing clean syringes and condoms in Ukraine  © Natalia Kravchuk/Alliance

As the International Harm Reduction Conference (IHRA) opens next week in UK the Alliance is calling for more drug user friendly healthcare and harm reduction programmes to protect injecting drug users from HIV.

As donor funding shifts to focus on strengthening health systems it will be critical in the long-term to ensure that healthcare systems are more drug user friendly and the primary healthcare network is more effectively used.

This is the message that Alvaro Bermejo, the Alliance’s executive director, will share at the opening session of the IHRA conference on Monday 28 April in Liverpool.


Susie McLean, the Alliance’s senior advisor on injecting drug use and harm reduction explains why this is an important issue.

“Injecting drug users are some of the most vulnerable people in our society yet society continually persecutes them. It is time to move away from the detention centre approach towards people who use drugs. Services need to be provided for users in health clinics so that they see them as places where they can get help, not be harmed.

“We see drugs users in the UK able to access health services but this is far from what the Alliance sees around the world where users are forbidden access to health services, are blamed for HIV, and denied basic human dignity. Drug users are human beings with human rights. Access to harm reduction and health services is a human right not an optional extra.


“The ‘war on drugs’ is effectively a war on drug users. It fuels the HIV epidemic, making public health responses much more difficult. People who use drugs need full access to harm reduction and health information and services. This includes HIV prevention, treatment and care, methadone, treatment of TB, sexual and reproductive health and prevention of parent to child transmission.”

There are an estimated 15.9 million people who inject illicit drugs in 158 countries and territories worldwide.


Harm reduction is a much more effective approach to addressing HIV and drug use. It means that drug users can prevent HIV transmission, live positively and limit the spread of HIV to the general population. We need to provide services for users in their communities as well as in government health clinics.

Harm reduction services include opiate substitution therapy, clean needles, and psycho-social support programmes for people who use drugs.

    the war on drugs is efectively a war on drug users