This statement is given on behalf of the International Network of People who Use Drugs and is given in endorsement of the Support Don’t Punish campaign.Thirty years into the HIV epidemic we note that one in three new HIV infections outside of sub-Saharan Africa can be traced back to the use of contaminated needles by people who inject drugs. We are particularly concerned that some states refuse to implement the interventions recommended by overwhelming, internationally accepted evidence that shows that the most effective means of preventing HIV infection and the transmission of other blood borne viruses amongst injecting drug users, most notably Hepatitis B and C is the provision of sterile needles and syringes, and in the case of people who inject opiates, OST programmes.
The refusal to provide these basic harm reduction interventions, still less the comprehensive package of nine interventions, defies contemporary human rights norms. Just last week the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture called for the scale up of harm reduction measures in places of detention. In fact he went so far as to say that “A particular form of ill-treatment and possibly torture of drug users is the denial of opiate substitution treatment.” More often than not, the refusal by member states to implement these life saving harm reduction interventions is accompanied, and justified, by a rigid interpretation of the drug control conventions.
Too often states insist upon treating people who use drugs as criminals, and this leads to a panoply of other human rights abuses including the operation of non-evidence based compulsory treatment centres. Last year, a statement signed by 12 UN agencies called for the immediate closure of such centres, yet they continue to proliferate in several regions of the world. These facilities which operate in the name of treatment, in fact offer nothing of the sort, but are instead often forced labour and detention camps.
As such we welcome Resolution 4 currently before the Committee of the Whole, now meeting next door, which calls for the immediate scale up of the comprehensive package in order to reach the Millenium Development Goals target of reducing HIV transmission amongst people who inject drugs by 50% by 2015. As such we welcome Mr Fedotov’s commitment to reaching this target as indicated by the remarks made in his opening speech, and are happy to work with his office as a network representing a key affected population. However, this target will, I am afraid not be reached without, universal scale up of the agreed upon interventions by all member states that contain populations of people who inject drugs.
There can be no ambiguity when it comes to reaching zero new infections. Leadership from UNODC and clear policy statements in support of the basics including opioid substitution therapy and needle and syringe programmes are essential to support the work of UNODC country teams, and for the Office to play its full part as a co-sponsor in the UNAIDS family. As we have heard very clearly in the statement from UNAIDS, harm reduction measures are incontrovertibly effective and as such we call upon the leadership of UNODC to consistently make their commitment to them clear, and for all member states to implement them.