CND: pushing for drug policies that prioritise health

By Bangyuan Wang

By Bangyuan Wang, the Alliance’s senior technical advisor on HIV and harm reduction

National drug control agencies will meet in Vienna next week (12 - 16 March) for the 61st session of the Commission on Narcotic Drugs (CND).

<p>Lulu, who is enrolled in KANCO&rsquo;s harm reduction programme in Watamu, Kenya receives counselling in relation to her drug use &copy; Corrie Wingate for the Alliance</p>Lulu, who is enrolled in KANCO’s harm reduction programme in Watamu in Kenya, receives counselling in relation to her drug use © Corrie Wingate for the Alliance

At the event, the Alliance will be working with a range of partners to both profile the experiences of countries that are decriminalising personal drug use and persuade more member states to endorse harm reduction and health centred approaches to drugs.

Over the years, drug policies that focus on supply reduction, law enforcement and punishment have had dire consequences for public health. Nowhere is this clearer than in the case of HIV – new infections among people who use drugs have increased by a staggering one third, from 114,000 in 2011 to 152,000 in 2015, according to 2016 UNAIDS data.

Partnerships for harm reduction

For many years, the Alliance and country partners have been supporting harm reductions services as well as increasing political support among governments for harm reduction and drug policy reforms.

During CND we will be organising a side event with the International Drug Policy Consortium (IDPC)Harm Reduction International (HRI) and other partners to show how a number of governments are collaborating with civil society for new drug policies that prioritise the health of people who use drugs.

We also hope to organise informal bilateral meetings between national delegations so countries that are already implementing harm reduction, and seeing improvements in public health as a result, can share their experiences with countries that are yet to embark on these necessary measures.

As ever, the Alliance will be represented by a range of advocates from Linking Organisations, from the Secretariat and from networks of people who use drugs. These include staff from India HIV/AIDS Alliance, Rumah Cemara in Indonesia, AIDS Care China and the Kenyan AIDS NGO Consortium.

Some of these Linking Organisations will be working with delegates from other countries as they attend CND. For example, AIDS Care China, which has been instrumental in implementing harm reduction in China, is working with the Cambodian government to send a small delegation to the CND for the first time.

Similarly, IDPC, HRI and the Asian Network of People Who Use Drugs (ANPUD) are partnering with India HIV/AIDS Alliance to particpate in CND, as part of a regional harm reduction programme, supported by the Global Fund.

Global data

A recent global review published by The Lancet shows that harm reduction services are distributing just 33 needles and syringes for every person in the world who injects drugs each year. The World Health Organization (WHO) defines 100 as low coverage. A meagre 16% of people who inject drugs have access to opioid substitution therapy (OST), far short of the WHO recommended coverage of 40%, and a miniscule 1% live in countries with high coverage of both interventions.

Also recently published is the Degenhardt review, a global study on the prevalence of drug use, which found evidence of injecting drug use in 179 countries or territories in 2017. This is an increase of 31 countries, mostly in sub-Saharan Africa, since the last review in 2008. HIV prevalence among people who inject drugs is now 17.8%. This means that 2.8 million people who use inject could be living with HIV worldwide.

Both reviews provide further evidence of the need to push at CND for policies that prioritise the health of people who use drugs, and to increase the level of priority given to this key population in the wider HIV response.

Find out more on the CND Blog by IDPC. You can also follow the Alliance’s twitter for updates on key Alliance events, or follow the hashtags #CND2018 and #CND61.