Side Event: Communities at the Centre: Barriers and opportunities for community led interventions

Organized by International Drug Policy Consortium, International Network of People who use Drugs, Joint United Nations Programme in HIV/ AIDS, Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights and UNODC HIV/AIDS Section

Communities of people using drugs are at the forefront of increasing access and delivery of health and human rights-based programs. The “Communities at the centre” side-event will discuss the positive impact of community-led human rights based policies and interventions, addressing barriers, taking stock of the various responses and opportunities for increased community-led interventions by communities and for communities

Moderator: Ann Fordham, IDPC

People who use drugs (PWUD) should be at the forefront of everything the affect them

Happy Assan, Tanzania Network of People Using Drugs

I present on behalf of a network of people who use drugs. We are in need, women who use drugs are often left out. You cannot make a decision about me without me being there. I know what I need and what will help me. Lack of PWUD involvement reduces the ability to work out where resources should be invested. We need that before any activity. Capacity building of WWUD is highly needed. Women are mostly hidden we hear – but it’s not actually like that, the services just aren’t set up properly. Services need to think about the needs of women. Stigma and discrimination affect women. Treating people as hopeless or as children does not help. People have to understand that at times we are missing a lot in our lives – we have too much depression. We need planning and needs assessment. We need people to listen to what we need. We need domestic investment for programs to be successful and sustainable. If we lose funding, we won’t be able to go on. Better collaboration is needed – with drug control enforcement agencies – they need to be aware of, work with and respect our network. PWUD need support, resources and funds to keep going.

Mick Matthews, International Network of People who Use Drugs

Communities at the centre – another evocative emotive statement – and I want to believe in these statements. I’m speaking as an aging privileged white male, former prisoner, living with HIV – and I struggle to find the meaning of these statements. I was at first UNGASS on HIVAIDS and was involved in getting key affected populations (KAPs) mentioned in final declaration.

Essential role that our communities play in our world. I struggle in believing governments. I represent PWUD and want to tell you how we are learning – we have learned from HIV movement- those achievements would not have been met without the push from civil society. We also learn from being present here at CND. We make friends and identify champions in people that support us. We want governments to learn that we are not the enemy – stop discriminating against us and work with us.

Have the humility to realise that you are not the experts. There are not enough resources being invested in harm reduction and community led programs. # countries with NSPs has only increased by 1 since 2018. No new countries having started implementing OST despite overwhelming evidence. By listening to us rather than ignoring us, so much more could be done. We need more services for PWUD. And we can help you design more effective programs. HIV prevention needs community mobilisation – that’s what we do. And we can help you save money and maximise domestic health investments. We know how to design cost effective programs that meet peoples needs. UNODC civil society (CSO) group must be sustained as there are too few platforms. Global Fund must continue and scale up its support for PWUD and include advocacy for human rights, decrim and PWUD.

Increase domestic investment in people who use drugs. Make sure global instruments reach and benefit PWUD. Global Fund offers a model for engagement with PWUD. Where else can a PWUD be involved in these high-level programs. Improvements to global fund model could be made, and we can build on it. We are not the enemy – work with us, not against us. Make communities at the centre the really – that would be a win-win partnership.

Monica Ciupagea , UNODC

I want to share the description on what Mick just said about making strong commitments to civil society. UNODC is cosponsor of UNAIDS, member states in this fora are convinced that HIV has to be addressed when trying to counter the world drug program. Role of civil society/community is crucial in outcome document. 11 million PWID. HIV is decreasing but not for PWUD. People working on the ground are crucial – we know how many PWUD are living with HIV and Hep C. Importance of UNODC-CSO Group on Drug Use and HIV. Recognises that we are not the experts – the people living with this everyday are the experts. We formalised this meeting in 2013 – workplace that we develop every year, accountable to civil society group. Annual meeting that takes place at CND and will discuss what we achieved and strategies for the future. Good results from this collaboration already. We know more about countries that are keen to implement harm reduction programs. Increasing efforts to have closer collaboration at country level to make sure PWUD are involved. Another result is developing the comprehensive programs with PWUD. Training with service providers and communities – raising awareness of importance of initiatives at country level – otherwise there is no point. You have number of countries that buy the wrong type of syringes that PWID can use – because they didn’t consult PWID. You need to know how to tailor services so they have better access. I hope our collaboration continues and we have ore initiatives in future years.

Vinay Saldanha, UNAIDS

I’m not just focused on what’s been achieved but need to hear more from PWUD. Special thanks to Happy and Mick. Most importantly – we have so much more work to do. Our job is to support and encourage the programs mentioned previously.

HIV incidence is increasing among PWID – global incidence decreasing (very slowly) but we’re seeing the opposite around incidence among PWID. We spend a lot of time in UN meetings and fora discussing and negotiating goals and targets and slogans – but the take home message is that not only the progress is inadequate, but it’s moving in the wrong direction. It’s going to take a complete rethink.

CND Plenary statement yesterday

  1. End the criminalisation of drug use and drug possession for personal use
  2. Make harm reduction programmes accessible to PWUD
  3. Reduce the stigma that PWUD and PLHIV face

We could design the most beautiful harm reduction programs – but they would be no point if there isn’t the right people working in there and people accessing the service. Providing a non-judgemental service is free.

Challenges faced by international community on the inclusion of references to PWID in outcome documents – the inclusion of text is not a milestone or achievement – this should be included in every single high-level document. We will continue to engage, negotiate and advocate for these battels we need to take a step back and think about how we do this. It won’t be easy but, but that is what UNAIDS is for.

Community-led responses: BY and FOR the people they serve.

  • For PWUD, community-led responses
  • Communities are the best way to each people living with and affected by HIV
  • Communities are acting to change laws that discriminate
  • There’s a hope for our current leadership that harm reduction will be included in next strategy.


Q: Matt Southwell – 2 new female EDs at UNODC and UNAIDS – what are the opportunities for collaboration and what could be achieved here

Vinay: We met yesterday to talk about bold leadership across UN system. They will be meeting in Nairobi – but don’t just leave it to us – engage with them wherever you can on what your asks and expectations are.

Monica: We’ve been working on this this week – ED came on board one month ago, and now its already CND. She’s already expressed an interested in working with civil society. It’s up to us and you to ensure this is happening in a meaningful way.

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