Alliance pushes for harm reduction at Commission on Narcotic Drugs

The world’s drug control agencies meet in Vienna this week to discuss drug related matters at the 60th meeting of the Commission on Narcotic Drugs (CND).

Over the last few years, the Alliance has been working closely with the International Drug Policy Consortium, Harm Reduction International and other partners to increase space for discussions about HIV, health and harm reduction in this forum.

This year’s session is important because it provides an opportunity to capitalise on progress made during last year’s UN General Assembly on Drugs (UNGASS). Although the Outcome Document agreed at UNGASS fell short of expectations, it does signal an unprecedented shift towards ensuring that public health, development and human rights concerns are more central to drug policy, with many governments starting to change their narrative.

During the CND, member states will also discuss an important resolution about increasing financing for the global HIV response. The resolution addresses the HIV funding crisis and we hope it will be endorsed by member states.

A needle exchange and support service aimed at fishermen is delivered harbour-side in Terengganu, Malaysia.A needle exchange and support service aimed at fishermen is delivered harbour-side in Terengganu, Malaysia. ©International HIV/AIDS Alliance

Unfortunately, many of the gains made at last year’s UNGASS are being eroded by some member states. In the Phillippines, people who use drugs are being killed and arrested, and in Cambodia, Tanzania and other countries people who use drugs are increasingly incarcerated. Police harassment drives people who use drugs away from HIV and hepatitis C prevention services.

The HIV situation among people who inject drugs remains critical. UNAIDS data from 2016 shows that new HIV infections among people who inject drugs have increased by a staggering one third, from 114,000 in 2011 to 152,000. Since 2014, no new countries have introduced needle and syringe programmes or opioid substitution therapy – the first time that this has happened since 2006.

It is not possible to end the HIV and hepatitis C epidemics amongst people who inject drugs, and uphold the UNGASS on Drugs Outcome Document, Political Declaration on HIV/AIDS, and Sustainable Development Goals commitments, without scaling up harm reduction services and developing health-focused drug policies.

The Alliance will participate in the CND together with partners from Vietnam, China and Indonesia. We will share lessons learned about scaling up harm reduction services, including substance dependence treatment services and anti-retroviral treatment, in China and Vietnam.

This week, a civil society member is on Indonesia’s CND official delegation for the first time.

Subhan Panjaitan, from Alliance linking organisation Rumah Cemara in Indonesia, is on the official government delegation to CND. He will share how the advocacy capacity of civil society to advocate for harm reduction services and health-focused drug policies is being built with support from the PITCH programme.

He said: “Last year Rumah Cemara, for the first time, represented civil society on the High Level Meeting on HIV/AIDS, as part of the official government delegation. This week, a civil society member is on Indonesia’s CND official delegation for the first time.

It is a great honour for me and I want to thank the Ministry of Foreign affairs for its trust and close cooperation with civil society. This year Indonesia will review its progress on Sustainable Development Goals and will participate in the 3rd cycle of the Universal Periodic Review.

These engagements provide a unique opportunity to exchange with other countries about experiences of addressing HIV through harm reduction and health-focused policies.” 

The Alliance’s partnership is one of the biggest civil society providers of harm reduction services in the world, reaching around 300,000 people who inject drugs and their sexual partners. Our harm reduction advocacy work focuses on scaling up harm reduction and addiction treatment services, improving cooperation with law enforcement and drug control agencies, and decriminalising personal drug use.

Alliance linking organisations will be sharing evidence and good practice at the CND. Aids Care China will showcase their work with government agencies, which has secured access to methadone and community-based drug dependency treatment services for more than 400 people in the Yunnan and Hubei provinces of China.

More than 30 compulsory centres in Vietnam have been closed and many have transitioned to provide methadone maintenance and voluntary services. SCDI collaborated with government agencies and community-based organizations of drug users, to pilot a community-based voluntary drug dependence treatment model in three provinces. This model has been adopted and funded by the local government, which is a significant step towards the steady phasing out of compulsory rehabilitation centres.

Read more about CND.