Just thought I would add a rather succinct analysis of the recent High Level Sessions at the Commission for Narcotic Drugs (CND). It is by Kasia Malinowska – Sepruch a blogger for the Huff Post and it gives a rather good take, methinks, on the proceedings and the direction the world is slowly travelling when it comes to drug analysis and policy implementation. I have just emailed  couple of people who were at the event in Vienna this March to get a few insights from the drug user and harm reduction fields, including our own Executive Director from INPUD and who spoke at the Civil Society Informal Hearings. You can see a copy of the speech further below in the previous blog, made on behalf on INPUD and its’ members. So, I will add there reply shortly along with the final Political Declaration all member states signed up too as a guideline for the next decade. Importantly, as is mentioned in both this article and the one I wrote before it, ember states are collating their thoughts and recommendations for the big United Nations  meeting in 2016 where drugs will be on the agenda. We will be there with bells on friends, you better believe it! Over to Katia…

The original article can be seen here in its entirety.

Drug Policy Reform is Breaking Through at an International Level

Kasia Malinowska-Sempruch

Change is in the air … But the pace could be quickened a bit.

While the international policymaking body on drugs has long been stuck in neutral, there are signs that alternative voices are finally breaking through. This year’s UN Commission on Narcotic Drugs featured some progress though its modest advances are only remarkable by comparison to a dismal past.

The first time I attended the CND was in 2003. I had just come in from Thailand where there were horrifying reports of extrajudicial killings being committed in the name of the government’s “war on drugs.”

Human Rights Watch later wrote: ‘the government crackdown has resulted in the unexplained killing of more than 2,000 persons, the arbitrary arrest or blacklisting of several thousand more, and the endorsement of extreme violence by government officials at the highest levels.’

But these events never elicited a single breath at CND.

Even as the then-United Nations special rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, Asma Jahangir, expressed “deep concern” over these reports, nothing was said at the CND in Vienna.

Instead the gathering consisted of consecutive days of government boasts on how well they are attacking the supply and demand of illicit drugs.

At the time, I was gobsmacked by the tone of the debate.

In my experience at the UN General Assembly’s Special Session on AIDS, just two years earlier, we did not encounter the level of bias nor reverence for a regime as we did in drug policy discussions. Statements made by national delegations at the CND, however, typically revealed a chilling lack of knowledge on drugs and international standards. Worst of all, these assertions went unchallenged.

Who, after all, was there to hold them to account?

In 2003, the international drug control debate took place inside a state-centric vacuum. There was an absence of alternative voices and contempt for any view that did not conform to a single minded obsession with abstinence from use of any drug (even those offered by physicians to treat dependencies).

Hence some international bodies lodged withering criticism against safe consumption facilities and even methadone, now an essential medicine of the WHO.

Ten years later, while many governments hold firm to the same old failed policies, there is a shift in the uniformity of the debate.

More governments are breaking from the pack and express concern that the system is not succeeding. Forward-looking governments are standing up and demanding that we count the costs of current policies.

And, in a willfully unresponsive environment, civil society organizations are fighting to have their voices heard.

In 2003, when Open Society Foundations organized its first side event at the CND, there was barely any vocal support for alternative policies or even criticism of obvious failures.

We now see dozens of organizations representing a variety of viewpoints.

Reform-minded NGOs are taking an active role (if mostly on the margins), and while they certainly are not welcomed by all, some governments are keen on including them in the international policymaking process.

In 2003, this gathering of governments was shrouded in opacity that made it secretive in fact, if not by design. Now civil society groups energetically live-tweet during discussions and an online web journal, CND Blog, updates regularly throughout the week.

The sad fact is that the process is still far from perfect.

The CND is a self-congratulatory remnant of the old UN. Many of its members seem stuck on the drug war rhetoric of the 1999s. It remains too buffered from external realities and the pace of change does not match the urgency. It is certainly too slow for the millions in jails and prisons, the hundreds of thousands arbitrarily detained and the many millions more suffering from entirely preventable health crises.

Beyond the immediate emergencies there is also an additional danger to international political sluggishness.

Change is happening. Alternative models are being introduced and leaders are demanding an international debate.

This year, the Organization of American States will make drug policy a key feature of its General Assembly. And the United Nations General Assembly Special Session on drugs in 2016 which will (we hope) trace the first steps toward a new international approach to drugs.

While the roles are still being defined, there will likely be some function for the CND in this process. And it is certainly troubling that this body seems so woefully out of touch when it is needed most.

Unless, CND gets with the times, we will have a 2016 debate in an institution stuck in the 1990s.

Posted in CND, conference, Decriminalisation, INPUD, law enforcement, Law reform, United Nations, UNODC | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

It’s That Time Again – the UN’s Commission on Narcotic Drugs .

Note: These views are my own as a drug activist and writer and do not reflect INPUD’s own thoughtful and positioned response to the events at the 2014 CND. For a direct response from INPUD’s Chief Executive Director Eliot Albers, see below.

The Start of the Dance

Wednesday 13th March, 2014 marked the start of the High-Level segment of the Commission on Narcotic Drugs (CND) 57th session at the UN headquarters in Vienna. But before we start chatting do let me say: For an interesting and worthwhile insight into the machinations of global drug policy, the CND is a good place to start and you can read more about the event at these chosen sites, to help you enjoy a more rounded news feast that will provide some relief for those suffering drug war stress ulcers.

Where to go to follow the low down on the high level sessions?

Start at the official UNODC’s CND page for your basic brief and structure of the weeks events at http://j.mp/N9oggo, and even check out some of the (permitted) real-time webcasts at    http://www.unodc.org/hlr/en/webcast.html where you can see representatives from civil society speak on drug issues as well as some of the world’s more knowledgeable and persuasive speakers – and as always some complete political muppets will get to have a big say (although this is always good for a chuckle) but remember that the CND operates behind closed doors on the whole so many of the more surreal muppet moments will be hidden from our view . Recover yourself with a breath of common sense at the http://cndblog.org where you will get the unofficial official low down on all the news and views from a harm reduction and drug law reformers standpoint (I could have just said common sense overview I suppose) and then you can vent your frustrated opinions by joining the conversation in real time via good ol’ Twitter ‪#‎CND2014‬. Add your two pence worth friends!

So What Is the CND in a nutshell?

Yuri Fedotov, Exec Director of UNODC

So, to backtrack a wee bit, the CND is the central policy-making body of the UN’s drug control system which has a two pronged role to a) ensure the UN agreed drug treaties are applied and (more or less) adhered to around the globe, and b) to formally exercise control over the governance of the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC). This includes deciding how 90% of The UN’s drug money is spent. Important stuff. Yet despite these key mandates, the CND chooses to work in secrecy – its meetings are not webcast (though we now have webcasts of side meetings and the plenary) and reports of the week long annual meetings are very limited. The CND also never votes so you don’t get to hear what position your country has taken on certain drug related matters and it stubbornly refuses to behave nothing like other more transparent United Nations bodies. Sounds like a global mafiosi you say? Well, many others have questioned the reasoning behind this approach and it has certainly colluded to give the CND sessions rather a ‘through the glass darkly’ kind of exposure.

However, slowly but surely many civil society organisations and individuals, (in the form of non government orgs like INPUD, HRI and other concerned folk such as busy drug activists), have been using a whole range of tactics to try and bring these very discreet diplomatic wheelings and dealings into the public eye. Some of this work has meant civil society has actually managed to push open a few formally closed doors and gain a reasonably meaningful presence at this important, very secretive, political temperature gauging event. One important inroad has been the possibly perversely named ‘Informal Civil Society Hearings’ which began in 2003 and is a mechanism for these High Level Sessions to involve the otherwise excluded NGO’s. It is a chance for members to listen to the collected views of civil society, including yours truly, INPUD. Shamefully, many of the representatives from member states use this opportunity to go and sight-see in Vienna (ok, I’m surmising) rather than listen to more humane, evidenced based approaches and informed arguments for law reform from the likes of us.

Tellingly, CND sessions still only speak of civil society involvement when it is couched only in UNODC terms; a conservative agenda calling for a drug free society, tackling ‘demand reduction’ (no, there’s never any ‘harm reduction’ here),  and happy healthy phrases about alternatives to drug consumption for young people. Tell that to a kid from the favelas. Ultimately, despite the secrecy perhaps the best way I have found to get both the intrigue and useful detail on the sessions is through The CND Blog as mentioned before. This is a joint civil society effort to ensure transparency at these sessions as well as provide timely records of the discussions taking place at the meeting. Click here to read a review of some of the more memorable civil society speeches including questions from the floor. A big thanks here to Alan Clear from New York’s Harm Reduction Coalition. Great stuff.

What’s up for discussion then?

Before I leave you with a rousing speech from INPUD’s own Chief Exec Eliot Albers at the above mentioned Civil society Hearings, I’ll just add a little bit about what are the stand out issues for the week for the CND.

Last round of negotiations…

The Commission on Narcotic Drugs will conduct a high-level review of the way Member States’ have implemented the rather wordy and dogmatic 2009 Political Declaration and Plan of Action on International Cooperation towards an Integrated and Balanced Strategy to Counter the World Drug Problem.  It will debate and review the obstacles and challenges in the updated 2012′s ‘Plan of Action’s Three Pillars; Demand Reduction, Supply Reduction and International Cooperation’. A little bit like the way the Political Declaration on HIV/AIDS came up for its own 10 year review in 2011, where global commitments and recommendations of the last decade came up again for scrutiny and new agreements were whispered about, erased, dodged and rewritten, such is the fate of this review. Although I fear it will fair much worse than the surprising last minute turn around at the 2011 HIV/AIDS Political Declaration.

Basically, virtually all of the negotiations behind the review will have been made over the last year or more, in quiet diplomatic meetings and lunches, in a language of push and pull that will be totally unfamiliar to most of us, such is its Freemason like parlance. Of course, there is only a week (or actually 2 days) to finally endorse, regret, commit and consider amended resolutions so the entire affair is a rapid week long flurry of activity, etched out sentence by painful sentence. Worth mentioning here and now however, is the obvious ” lack of will to address the issue of eliminating capital punishment for drug offenders.”

The UNODC Executive Director, Yuri Fedotov  released his final ‘contributions’ to the event a few weeks ago. In the 19 page document he admitted “the overall magnitude of drug demand has not substantially changed at the global level” and even provided a rare endorsement of harm reduction, “Countries which have adequately invested in evidence-informed risk and harm reduction programmes aimed at preventing the spread of HIV through injecting drug use have remarkably reduced HIV transmission among people who inject drugs and their sexual partners”. Wow, that comment coming has been like pulling teeth!

Also at the event, preparations are being made for 2016,when the UN General Assembly (the most important global event for a single issue in the UN calendar) will host a special session on the world’s drug problems, and much will be based around the work begun here.

Worth reading is a very interesting speech by the Government of Poland (click here). I found it fascinating to see how far Poland has travelled in its understanding of drug use over te last 15 or so years. Much of that I am certain is to do with the hard working harm reduction, human rights and drug user activists on the ground. Nice work Poland! Just listen to this quote “Mr. Chairman, Poland welcomes and supports the actions of the United Nations furthering the respect for human rights of psychoactive substance users and abusers including their rights to life and freedom, bodily integrity, privacy, access to education, equality before the law, freedom of movement, association and gathering in order to protect their needs and interests… ”   Users AND abusers! Usually it is always abuser this misuser that. Rarely user! And human rights, bodily integrity? Fabulous progress Poland.

Check out the UNODC’s World Drug Report to see what we are dealing with here..

And the Political Declaration and Plan of Action document they all will be reviewing, in its previous form can be found here (though we will update you with the new one)…

You can find the Political Declaration in all 7 UN languages here.

But here is our INPUD moment…Over to you Eliot!

INPUD Chief Executive Director , Eliot Albers knocks it out of the room

Eliot Ross Albers

Eliot Albers INPUD Chief Exec Director

Dr .Eliot Albers. INPUD.

Over the last few years it has been increasingly widely recognised that two bodies of international law, namely human rights law on the one hand and drug control law on the other, exist in “parallel universes”.  Professor Paul Hunt UN Special Rapporteur on the right to the highest attainable standard of health made this remark in a report in which he also noted that “This widespread, systemic abuse of human rights is especially shocking, because drug users include people who are the most vulnerable, most marginal in society. Despite the scale of the abuse, despite the vulnerability, there is no public outrage, no public outcry, no public inquiries, on the contrary: the long litany of abuse scarcely attracts disapproval. Sometimes it even receives some public support.”

To be explicit, the pursuit of repressive drug control in the name of the war on drugs, has inexorably driven rampant human rights abuses against people who use drugs and their communities. That one set of international laws is systemically driving breaches of another is an increasingly untenable situation. Whilst there is no hierarchy of legal systems, it is arguable that human rights law and the principles upon which it is based, principles that are defined as indivisible, inalienable, and universal, should unequivocally trump the pursuit of another set of laws that are producing such gross rights violations. When the pursuit of drug control law becomes a driver of widespread human rights abuses, on what is unquestionably a massive scale, it is without doubt time to call for a thorough review of those laws. As The Global Commission on Drug Policy put in in their report ‘The Negative Impact of the War on Drugs on Public Health: The Hidden Hepatitis C Epidemic’:  “instead of investing in effective prevention and treatment programmes to achieve the required coverage, governments continue to waste billions of dollars each year on arresting and punishing drug users – a gross misallocation of limited resources that could be more efficiently used for public health and preventive approaches. At the same time, repressive drug policies have fuelled the stigmatisation, discrimination and mass incarceration of people who use drugs”. This passage makes clear the mechanism by which repressive drug policies drive and produce violations of the human rights of people who use drugs.
That the pursuit of drug control, the maintenance of punitive prohibition, and the war on people who use drugs is indeed driving such breaches is now beyond question. When you define the pursuit of public policy, defined by both national and international law, as a war you are going to produce war casualties, and arguably unintended, and in this case, decidedly negative consequences. In response to this war we are calling for a peace, we are calling for an amnesty for drug war prisoners, an end to the violence and rights violations that have been heaped upon our community, and we are calling for an intelligent and open debate on alternatives. The state of war in which we are living is one waged in the name of morality, of social order, and in defence of the right of the state to control the bodies of its citizens. This war against the supposed threat to society that the “evils of drugs” pose has in reality made communities of people who use drugs the real targets, has made us into casualties of war, it has stigmatised us, discriminated against us, pathologised us, and made us scapegoats for much of society’s ills.
It can no longer be claimed that human rights violations occurring in the name of the war on drugs are aberrations, they are rather a logical consequence of the pursuit of this war. As such, we all upon the human rights community, and society at large not to remain silent, but to join us in calling for an end to the war on drugs, an end to the war on our communities, and an end to the endemic stigmatisation, marginalisation, discrimination and structural violence that it has entailed.
These conditions have fostered an environment in which people who use, and in particular, people who inject drugs, have suffered from systemic denials of their rights to health, to privacy, to integrity of body and mind, to be free from discrimination, torture, cruel, degrading and inhuman treatment, and to liberty. The deep stigma that people who use drugs are subject to has seen us denied access to appropriate health care services (including access to sterile needles and syringes, opiate substitution programmes, and treatment for HIV and hepatitis C), education, and the right to vote, denied the right to enter, stay and reside in numerous countries, has seen us flung into jails, prisons, and forced detoxification centres that are nothing more than forced labour camps, has seen us denied access to our children, and subject to corporal and capital punishment. 
All of this for what is in reality a victimless crime, for we would argue that what drugs an adult chooses to use should not be the business of the police, or judicial authorities, or that of any other agent of the state. That it has become so has fuelled an epidemic of imprisonment, incarceration, denial of appropriate medical care, and ill treatment that defies, and makes a mockery of human rights norms.
The combination of repressive legal environments, structural barriers and impediments to health care, legal redress and support has directly fuelled the twin epidemics of HIV and viral hepatitis currently raging through the drug using, and in particular, injecting, community. The skewed and disproportionate burden of these blood borne viruses carried by the injecting community is directly attributable to the legal environment in which we live and the discrimination to which we are subject. HIV is as much a biological fact as it is an exploiter of social vulnerability, poverty, and structural faultlines. That it thrives amongst communities who by dint of their sexual orientation (the LGBT community), choice of profession (sex workers), gender identity (transgender people), or choice of drugs and mode of administration (people who inject drugs, and in some contexts people who smoke stimulants, particularly people living in poverty who smoke crack) are criminalised, marginalised, and discriminated against makes its prevention and the fight against it, first and foremost a human rights issue. As such, a socio-political, human rights respecting, and community based response is as, if not more imperative, than a purely bio-medical one.
The extent of the human rights violations to which people who use drugs are subject is extensive. Beyond the criminalisation of drug use and possession which is in and of itself a legally enshrined violation of the right not to be interfered with or to privacy, in terms of what drugs one chooses to use, these violations range from, and include, the hundreds of thousands of actual or suspected drug users thrown into drug detention or ‘rehabilitation’ centres in South East Asia in which torture, forced labour, abuse, violence and degradation are the norm; the prisons in the USA, Russia and countless other countries that are filled with non-violent drugs offenders, with a disproportionately large number of those in the USA being people of colour, African Americans and Latinos; denial of access to health care, most notably denial of access to treatment for HIV and for hepatitis C; the denial of our agency and ability to make decisions about our well being; and arbitrary police violence and harassment.
The war on people who use drugs has fallen most heavily on ethnic minorities, the poor, and women who use drugs. These multiple markers of stigma and exclusion have fuelled mass incarceration, forced sterilisation, police victimisation, violence, and actively driven the twin epidemics of HIV and viral hepatitis amongst these sectors of our community.
This tidal wave of flagrant, systemically driven human rights abuses must be brought to an end, and the only way to do so is to attack the problem at its root.  In this case this means calling for a thorough overhaul of the three UN conventions that together comprise the global regime of drug prohibition. Superficial redress, and minor reform will not staunch the flow of systemic rights abuses directed at people who use drugs, their families and communities. Only the end of the war on people who use drugs through international legal reform will suffice to end this panoply of rights violations. To ensure that this war ends we are calling upon human rights defenders and advocates to join with drug user activists, harm reduction and drug law reform advocates in working to ensure that ending the architecture of global prohibition is firmly on the table at the UN General Assembly Special Session on Drugs in 2016. 
And one last thing….

Kazatchkine: Arresting Drug Users Increases HIV

Another short but powerful speech by a master on the subject. If you want the evidence that harm reduction works, look no further.
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How does the CND connect with the UN, the UNODC, ECOSOC and UNDCP? Pray Tell!

The Commission on Narcotic Drugs (CND) was established by the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) in 1946, to assist the ECOSOC in supervising the application of the international drug control treaties. In 1991, the UN General Assembly (GA) further expanded the mandates of the CND to enable it to function as the governing body of the UNODC (United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime) and in doing so, structured its agenda into two distinct segments: a ‘normative’ segment, during which the CND performs its treaty-based and normative or standard variety of functions; and an operational segment, during which the CND ‘exercises its role as the governing body of UNODC’. Within this it approves the budget of the Fund of the United Nations International Drug Control Programme (UNDCP), which accounts for over 90 per cent of the resources available to the United Nations for drug control. As you can imagine, these functions put the CND High Level Sessions at the center of influencing the world’s drug policy agenda so a lack of transparency here means camouflaging what relays on our streets as the ‘collateral damage’ in this crazy drugs war. Us, the people who use drugs who bear the brunt of incarceration, disease, social exclusion and death because of outdated treaties, old school agendas and political posturing of the worst kind.

The UNODC also incorporates the secretariat of the International Narcotics Control Board (INCB). The INCB declares itself as an independent, quasi-judicial expert body established by the Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs of 1961. Ten of its 13 members are elected from a list of persons nominated by Governments, the other 3 nominated by the World Health Organization (WHO) for their medical, pharmacological or pharmaceutical experience.

The secretariat has in effect a potentially important role at the UNODC, carrying out administrative duties towards enforcing UN drug control treaties. It is thought to be a overly conservative body that continually puts out recommendations and reports that are often non evidenced based and morally centered. For example, it has recently publicly rebuked both Uruguay and the USA for their position on marijuana regulation and legalization. Expect more to follow. See HCLU’s informative 1 minute film about the role of the INCB in todays’ global drug policy  

More to follow! – Already being majorly annoying, the INCB

Posted in CND | Tagged , , , | 1 Comment

The People and the Power

The fight for the heart of Ukraine.

(AP Photo/Andres Kudacki)

It may not be a great leap to suggest that many Europeans woke up last week to a growing sense of anxiety and foreboding about the situation unfolding in Ukraine. Yet even with the painful memory of two world wars still raw in so many people’s minds, such fears must pale into insignificance when compared to the intense shock and nervousness felt by the Ukrainian people themselves, particularly those in the Eastern region of the country who blood was so brutally spilt on the streets of Kiev recently. For just a few short days, the citizens army, those self professed people’s liberation fighters, who had huddled together in sub zero temperatures for months refusing to be moved, lived a few moments of exhilaration. Jubilation and sheer relief shone through on the faces in the crowds of people I saw through my TV screen,  proudly venturing through their cities streets as the government finally fell to the people.

Almost as tourists,hand in hand, arm in arm,  they explored the government buildings and precincts that had been previously off limits for years to all but few.

A protester stands behind barricades during clashes with police that left around 100 dead, many from sniper and police gunshot wounds.(AP Photo/Darko Vojinovic

So many Ukrainians stood in that square day after day, so many more became compelled to come out only weeks and months later, joining in solidarity and offering much needed practical support.

INPUD members can be proud to know that drug user/harm reduction activists had been part of that rising change, always pushing, fighting and challenging Ukraine to adopt progressive health and welfare policies for the drug and HIV/AIDS community. Always found at the forefront pushing back the tide of discrimination and abuse towards our peers and in under a decade, through the seeds of progressive change that seeped through from then Orange revolution, Ukraine became a role model in the east for tackling the growing HIVAIDS numbers that had come to redefine the modern picture of the epidemic. Shining examples of prevention treatment care and support for injecting drug users who were affected HIV/AIDS, inroads that would become chipped away at as Russian influence was felt ever stronger in day to day policy.

February 5, 2014. Anti-government protesters sleep near a barricade. The parliament tried again that day to agree on curbing the presidency’s powers, while the EU’s foreign policy chief meets embattled President Viktor Yanukovych to press for a resolution of the political crisis. The crisis has sparked tensions between the West, which is considering sanctions against Ukrainian officials, and Russia, which has accused the EU and US of interference in the former Soviet republic. Photo by Angelos Tzortzinis/AFP

While the political script of Ukraine since around 2000 reads like the darkest political thriller imaginable, for the Ukrainian people, to have had the highest of hopes of finally changing the ‘ destructive processes that had become characteristic for Ukraine’ only to see them repeatedly collapse in yet more political intrigue, false imprisonments, political bullying and blindsiding, and even poisonings and murders of those in opposition, how hard has it been to keep hope alive? Not only alive but ready to fight again. A deep scepticism, disgust and despair seemed to set in with many Ukrainians, while watching the seeds of their countries modern civil liberties that had glowed in Orange, be crushed at every turn.

So to take to the streets yet again in Ukraine, clinging perhaps to an even more fragile hope, the kind that envelopes a people after a spark of revolution, the kind spun forth from the blood, sweat, tears and determination of the people, must mean everything to the people, for what strength or faith in the future  must be left? 

Like other communities around the world over the last few years, they fought to battle the stupendous unabashed corruption that had been growing almost unchecked since independence. What must that be like? Watching your government pillaging the economy, most colossoly the president himself to the tune of possible billions, all which has left Ukraine broke and in hock to its old patriarch, Russia itself.

Corruption has been one of the main reasons people have taken to the streets in Kiev.
Above pic: anti-government protesters found a private zoo, luxury cars and evidence that over $2 million had been spent to decorate a dining hall and tea room at ousted President Viktor Yanukovych’s mansion. Yet Yanukovych earned $25,000 dollars for most of his political life. And his son, a dentist by training, is reportedly worth more than $500 million dollars.

Russia has already pledged to freeze the remaining $12billion of the $15billion loan to Ukraine for aid until an effectively Russian recognized government is restored, just to enforce the seriousness of turning ones back on mother.

Several days ago, I had seen a clip of the piles and piles of Russian soldiers bodies, frozen to death, half starved and brutalized beyond recognition during the 1st world war, and wondered how any country, especially Russia, could have any appetite left for a potential war with its neighbours or any precarious show of aggression. Yet Putin is paying the Piper here and no doubt has now dug himself and mother Russia, in for the long game.

Just one Vital area of Russian interests or even stranglehold inside Ukraine.

When I was working on United Nations documents For INPUD and as such visited the UN in New York and UNODC in Vienna, Austria I was to discover just how Russia conducts itself on the international stage. It is in part the fault of the west. Its like a new kid at an exclusive school, who after the soviet republic collapsed, had turned up with flash new toys to tempt the rich kids to play. But the rich kids were snobs while others Secretly took an Interest in the new kids toys, often while no one was watching, but still wouldn’t sit with him at lunch. ..

OK I could go on with this metaphor, suffice to say Russia is now a big kid at the posh school, capable of outrageous bullying and rule breaking, calling everyone’s bluff because he knows he has the richest dad in the whole school and he will never be expelled!

The tragedy of course is, that multilateral agreements and United Nation protocols, treatises and conventions are the only way our globalized world has any hope of working together yet countries, like the USA and Britain, and following in our footsteps, Syria and Russia, repeatedly decide it is ok to ignore resolutions whenever things get really difficult. Do they realize the future jeapordy it places us all? Back in the days of the United Nations objection to the Iraq war, people said then how dangerous this would be, setting such a clear precedent that country’s could bow out of alignments and pursue an unpopular, unvoted for and illegal agenda – why it just made a mockery of what the UN stood for. Now we see what a mockery all those UN resolutions really are as Russia sends its armored vehicles through a whole bunch of them! And Putin, perhaps rightly says ‘ Don’t you lecture me America’!

So Europe and Eastern Ukraine awake yet again to face perhaps  the coldest eastern wind they have felt in many years. This morning eastern Ukraine troops are being left without direction, some deciding to stand their ground and others backing down within the currently Russian occupied Crimea. All it may take is a misplaced gunshot to start an almighty international incident. 

Caught in the moment, Ukraine’s ousted president winks knowingly at Putin in the weeks before he fled to Russia.

We wish our Ukrainian friends everything and more, if only we could give it. We hope peace, humanitarianism and community prevail and we salute you for your incredible courage and strength.

Удачи друзі

Udachy druzi (good luck friends)

I wil aim to speak with friends in Ukraine to ask them what this experience has been like and will report back very soon for part 2.

Posted in Eastern European Countries, Europe, Law reform, Regional News & Info, Uncategorized, United Nations | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Prison Arts and Activism Conference: A Call for Papers, Art, Workshops and Presentations


For our peers in the struggle, an opportunity to say it like it is. Welcomed are national and international perspectives on prison through art. Deadline March 15th 2014.

Originally posted on Prison Photography:

Call for Papers, Art, Workshops, and Presentations:

Marking Time: Prison Arts and Activism Conference

Rutgers University October 8-10, 2014


We invite proposals for papers, panels, workshops, and artwork for Marking Time: Prison Arts and Activism Conference at Rutgers University on October 8-10, 2014. This conference aims to provide national and international perspectives on art created inside prison and in response to mass incarceration.

The conference has three primary objectives: 1) to facilitate the development of networks and support for prisoners, artists, scholars, and organizations working in the field; 2) to promote the importance of prison artistic practices as vital components of contemporary culture and vernacular arts traditions; and 3) to provide a forum to examine the impact of prison systems on culture and specific populations. We hope that the conference will appeal to a broad audience, ranging from students to arts educators, and from legal scholars to prison reform…

View original 281 more words

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A Crack Pipe Vending Machine? Now that Rocks!

A Vending Machine for Crack Pipes? Now that Rocks!

Well, I’ll be damned, harm reduction is getting down with drug users -how  fabulous when we find a glowing example of a perfectly useful, innovative and user friendly invention that actually makes it out of its’ idea stage, only to leap frog over the community hysterics into production and onto our streets; the streets of Vancouver in this case. A vending machine for crack pipes -selling the pipes that one may be constantly in need of (if one has a constant preoccupation with the white rocks, that is…) for just 25c.

OK, so as the VICE news item below says, the over-arching idea behind this was to prevent HIV or Hepatitis C transmission that people COULD be exposed too, when finding themselves sharing pipes and some bodily fluids from the associated burnt or cut thumbs and lips that can occur from heavy sessions on the pipe. But I notice at least one of the vending machines is located in a popular drop in service, which on its own provides an important moment for a user to touch base, be seen by peers and health professionals, add to an important data pool on drug usage, – and all at the same time as making a personal positive health choice and a chance to reduce harm. Nice one!

But what is really cool is that this is an evolution of the work our rather clever peers are doing in Vancouver, work started in the area by VANDU (Vancouver Area Network of Drug Users),

Mariner Janes of the Portland Hotel Society with the machine.

Three Cheers for our Junkie Peers!

So three cheers to the continuation of user ingenuity and peer outreach in Vancouver, they have done us all proud. I should say however, that the sheer scale of what drug users are up against in Vancouver seems to ensure our colleagues are constantly fighting hard to maintain some semblance of humanity  for our community there.

The Downtown Eastside, centered on the intersection of Main and Hasting streets in Vancouver, has one of the highest concentrations of injection drug users in the world. An overgrown ‘Skid Row’ is flush with prostitution and destitution, most of its residents live in badly maintained hotels and hostels lining Main Street.

Out of 12,000 residents in the area, some 5,000 are estimated to be drug users and any chat with a peer from these streets or indeed a look at any of the  documentaries on You Tube about the area, shows our peers are struggling;  crack and methamphetamine use remains steady or is increasing and even injecting heroin use continues to rise as much of the scene is now buoyed by pharmaceutical opiates which appears to be collecting young, newer users whereas in other places, like the UK and Western Europe, we are seeing injecting heroin use dropping among the young and plateauing among older users..

Since 2008 it seems over half of Vancouver’s opiate users are on methadone or similar OST’s although the figures aren’t as encouraging for its aboriginal population. For up to date information on the drug situation in Vancouver, Click here.

With such numbers of heavy drug users living in such a deprived area, an outsider could believe any inroads made by progressive harm reduction policies and initiatives are slowly unpicked again by repeated incarceration, illness and infection, discrimination and homelessness. Yet this is the battle that harm reductionists and drug user activists are fighting; it is indeed one step forward and two steps back and lives are literally won and lost on the back of populist election promises, just like in so many parts of the world…

Humanity on Skid Row

Although the battle to save lives and promote humane drug policies in Vancouver however is ongoing, there are certainly signs that the current interventions are working. Yet the aim must be to examine the strategies that are showing results  Statistics show the number of new HIV infections (incidence) may be decreasing among people who inject drugs, females and Aboriginal people and where targeted, innovative health and harm reduction responses are delivered, results generally follow.

According to 2011 national HIV estimates, an estimated  14% of new infections were attributed to injection drug use compared to an estimated 17% of new infection in 2008.*

In Vancouver itself, initiatives across the board have given us all a welcome insight into just what targeted, user friendly and progressive health interventions can do. The project STOP (The Seek and Treat for Optimal Prevention of HIV/AIDS Project) was a three-year pilot funded by the Ministry of Health and ending in March 2013. This fascinating endeavour would  ultimately transform the HIV system of care in the city through a variety of initiatives and activities we now know as imperative for change, such as community engagement with people living with HIV, evidence review, consultations with both service and healthcare providers, the development of population-specific reports, constant assessment of the current state of the HIV system of care, policy change, and the funding, monitoring and evaluation of over 40 pilot activities. Phew! A terrific document was recently published which I urge anyone interested in progressive health interventions for this community, to read this (Click Here).

Toronto user activists, still innovating and agitating for their community.

Across the other side of Canada in Toronto, we have the same level of innovative peer initiatives and activism behind many of the most progressive  community approaches to the drug issue. Raffi Balian, INPUD member and a founder of Toronto’s  exceptional harm reduction service CounterFIT,  told me “The best and most innovative harm reduction initiatives are taking place in cities where people who use drugs are represented by strong unions; such as VANDU in Vancouver, and Brugerforeningen in Copenhagen.  In Toronto” he continued “we have been blessed because we were the first city to distribute crack stems.  A lot of the push came through the work of the Illegal Drug Users Union of Toronto in 2000, followed by the Safer Crack Use Coalition of Toronto (SCUC, 2001-2011).  In Toronto, service users can get as many as 200-300 stems without questions asked.” Upon being asked about the popularity of Vancouver’s crack pipe vending machine, Raffi was quick to enthuse  that the distribution of crack stems through vending machines, “is a brilliant idea and something that we will surely import here [Toronto].  It will take some time and effort, but I’m sure we will learn from VANDU’s efforts and will make it a reality in Toronto – just as we are doing with supervised injection sites. “

Recent moves to copy Vancouver’s famous safer drug consumption room INSITE – (sometimes known as a supervised injection centre or clinic) has been underway, and a feasibility study on injection rooms was actually requested by the City of Toronto in 2008 (and later expanded to include Ottawa). The study was then undertaken by researchers at the University of Toronto and staff at St. Michael’s Hospital,  after watching the developments at INSITE.

The results of the study were released in April 2012 and it advised Ottawa to introduce two “safe consumption” sites and Toronto to open three sites. While they didn’t recommend specific locations, they did suggest more than one centralized location, which is what Vancouver has with its Insite program. Around the same time a Public Health initiated study emerged recommending Montreal also open up to four safe drug consumption rooms, openly referring to the benefits such sites have repeatedly shown in reducing the number of overdose deaths, assisting people to make positive changes in their lives and reducing the drug paraphernalia found on the streets and in the parks.

INSITE – North America’s first drug consumption room in Vancouver

Although conservatives in Toronto raced to  dampen spirits with their usual confused concerns about the recommendations, the brilliant partnership working recently undertaken by drug user activists like those at VANDU, who worked long and hard with various  groups, advocates, researchers, health professionals, lawyers and others to fight for the special exemption to Canada’s Federal Drug Laws which enabled INSITE to remain open for good, (an exemption which now finally stands) today means that cities and provinces like Toronto, Ottawa and Montreal, can also fight for a similar exemption -and should.

Yet before we say goodnight to our peers in Vancouver (and across Canada) may we just wish our friends luck as they embark on their latest Crack Pipe Vending Machine initiative and hope that other countries may soon follow their courageous lead. Well done in using another tool in the fight to prevent HIV and Hep C, in fostering rights and responsibilities for people who use drugs, and forwarding the adage that judgements and moralising will never help the drugs debate, only humanity, intelligent policies and community partnerships involving the drug using community -will provide us all with the solutions we require now and for the future. G ‘Night friends.

Toronto Public Health

Pic: Another recent initiative that drug using peers have been trained up in, in Toronto -using the anti overdose drug Naloxone, to be administered to an opiate user at the time of an overdose to essentially restart breathing again.

*2011 Estimates of HIV prevalence and incidence in Canada, published by the Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC)

The Crack Pipe Vending Machine -A Vice Article.

“Crack pipes: 25 Cents,” reads the sign on a shiny vending machine, painted in bright polka dots. Decades ago, this device sold sandwiches. Now, when you put in your quarter and punch in a number, there is a click, a pause, and a little whirr. Then the spiral rotates until a crack pipe—packaged in a cardboard tube to avoid shattering—drops into a tray. Then you reach through the flap and retrieve your new stem.

According to the BC Centre for Disease Control, Hepatitis C and HIV can be spread through sharing crack pipes. The intense heat and repeated usage that comes with crack addiction can quickly wear pipes down to jagged nubs. Users are always in need of fresh supplies. Like distributing clean needles, making crack pipes available is just good public health policy, as users don’t have to resort to risky activities to come up with the cash to buy one on the street.

The crack pipe vending machine was the dream of Mark Townsend and Mariner Janes, of the Portland Hotel Society (PHS), a non-profit that provides services to persons with mental health and addiction issues. There are currently two machines and they’ve been in place for six months.  Each holds 200 pipes and needs refilling a couple times each week.

One of the machines is located at PHS’s bustling Drug Users Resource Centre. As I arrive there with Mariner, people greet each other as a writing workshop wraps up, while others queue up for lunch. I ask if anyone wants to talk to me about the vending machine that stood in the corner.

Joe looks at me like I’m an idiot, then smiles, and adds: “It’s a vending machine, what else do you need to know?” He says he uses it all the time and that “a quarter is way better than what’d you have to pay on the street.” A bit of a debate kicks off about how to improve the machines e.g. including other crack related supplies: lighters, push sticks, etc.

A woman named DJ chimes in. She uses the machine and tells her friends about it. She says she’d like to see more pipe vending machines around the Downtown Eastside. “But bolt them down… People go: ‘Hey, pipes!’ And shake it to get them to drop out for free.” Mariner nods his head, all too aware of the shaken machine dilemma.

Mariner hopes that distributing pipes will one day be as accepted a practice as handing out needles to IV drug users has become. He says, “the stigma around crack use is much higher than, say, heroin or any other drug. There’s a particular quality of panic.” And he worries about the possible sensationalism that the vending machines might attract from more conservative commentators.

But community support for handing out safe crack smoking supplies is growing. Three years ago, the Vancouver Coastal Health Authority began a pipe distribution pilot program. The Vancouver Area Network of Drug Users started even before that. Vancouver Police have come round, giving the nod to some harm reduction initiatives, even directing users to the safe injection site and other programs.

“Aiyanas Ormond of the Vancouver Area Network of Drug Users told me the vending machines are “a good intervention. Access to a pipe can make the difference for people having a safe practice.” Citing research from the Safer Crack Use, Outreach, Research and Education (SCORE) project, he noted that significant harm reduction comes from distributing pipes to users in the sex trade. They won’t have to work potentially unsafe dates just to pay for the pipe itself.”

Mariner spends his days behind the wheel of PHS’s needle exchange van, doing outreach and distributing clean needles and pipes around Vancouver. There is a neighbourly, comradely feeling between him and the people who use the vending machines, or sidle up to the his van whose purpose is announced in giant letters on the side panel of the vehicle.

Sometimes, a client will ask for a more subtle approach, so as not to announce to the entire neighbourhood what’s going on. Mariner will pull into an alley, or even use a less obvious vehicle. And if a more anonymous interaction is what the user wants, all they need is a quarter. That’s his philosophy—meet people on their own terms, and provide services as a peer, not an authority.

It’s not by chance the vending machine has a happy—rather than official—design; as its meant to contrast the typically cold, heavily secured, and clinical facilities for addicts. The vending machine has an aesthetic that exudes care for the people who will use it. Mariner says “part of the design that we chose is to provide a sense of respect and dignity to the user, who is pretty much stigmatized and reviled everywhere else in the city.”

The look and feel says: I am a machine that dispenses a basic health care supply to the community, not a judgement or moral lecture.

This article was authored by: Garth Mullins ; for VICE and has been copied fully from the VICE.com website.

Feb 7 2014

Posted in HIV/AIDS, Injection Drug Use, INPUD, peer education, peer insights, Publications and Tools | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Global Network of Sex Work Projects launches a global consensus against violence


17th of December is International Day to End Violence Against Sex Workers

NSWP (known as Global Network of Sex Worker Projects) is publishing the results of a global consultation exercise, carried out with members in every region, and now written up into all the five languages of NSWP, for December 17th, International Day to End Violence Against Sex Workers.

The publication of the Consensus Statement represents a new tool for sex workers’ advocacy worldwide, as for the first time it distills into a consensus the global demands of the sex worker rights movement. The Consensus Statement details eight fundamental rights that sex worker-led groups from around the world identified as crucial targets for their activism and advocacy, and which, if fully realised, would be a huge step towards safeguarding sex workers’ human rights, labour rights, and health. These eight key rights were identified as:

  • The right to associate and organise;
  • The right to be protected by the law;
  • The right to be free from violence;
  • The right to be free from discrimination;
  • The right to privacy, and freedom from arbitrary interference;
  • The right to health;
  • The right to move and migrate; and
  • The right to work and free choice of employment

The documents – which have been published in both full and summary versions – are available in English (full and summary); French (full and summary); Russian (full and summary); Chinese (fulland summary) and Spanish (full and summary).

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ALERT -contaminated ecstasy, a global issue

Tablets sold as MDMA may contain other chemicals

Sadly, perhaps the most important news to report today, on what should be a day for celebration in our community – International Drug Users Day (on the 1st of November), is a contamination issue that has gone global, affecting ecstasy. INPUD has just released this information sheet for circulation on the contamination of ecstasy by the chemical PMA and the subsequent tragic deaths that have resulted, covering what you can do to stay informed and protect yourself. Here is an introduction to the issue from the document  PMA_Warning_INPUD_Oct2013_v.1 (1) available for printout or link it to your website. Help yourself to information for dissemination amongst the using community but please credit INPUD.

PMA_Warning_info Sheet INPUD_Oct2013_v.1 (1)

 PMA Contaminated Ecstasy and MDMA Alert for MDMA and Ecstasy Users

If you use ecstasy and/or MDMA, you cannot afford to think of this as one of those things that happens to other people. There is lots of misinformation going around, and people using uppers, ecstasy, and MDMA need some straightforward facts.

 Recent deaths

Deaths caused by ecstasy contaminated with the drug para-Methoxyamphetamine (PMA) have increased substantially over the last two years. The Office for National Statistics records no PMA deaths in 2008, 2009, and 2010 in England and Wales, up to a recorded one death in 2011 to around twenty deaths in 2012.

This trend has continued into 2013. There have been media and police reports that in recent months, a man has died in Manchester, with several people additionally requiring hospitalisation, and there were more reported deaths in Manchester towards the beginning of the year; in addition, at least two people have died this year in Cheshire, further people have died in the North of England, in Oxford, and in Hampshire, and we aware of numerous people who have mistakenly taken PMA in London. Deaths have been recorded in England and Wales, Northern Ireland, Scotland, the USA (several states), Canada, Denmark, Norway, and Australia.

If you use ecstasy and/or MDMA, you cannot afford to think of this as one of those things that happens to other people. There is  lots of misinformation going around, and people using uppers, ecstasy, and MDMA need some straightforward facts

What is PMA?

PMA is a dangerous compound. Using it has substantial negatives, not the least of which are high morbidity and high mortality, and there is little by way of psychoactive positives to justify these downsides. This is different from uncontaminated MDMA, which is substantially safer to the individual using the drug than many other psychoactive  substances, including alcohol and tobacco (its Class A status is nonsensical as an indicator of harm).

Most people are not deliberately buying and taking PMA in greater numbers; instead the ecstasy they are using, the active ingredient of which is ideally MDMA, has been contaminated. The reasons for this contamination are unclear, but it is possible that a precursor to the synthesis of PMA is easier to acquire than a precursor to MDMA.

Regardless of the reason, the fact is that people are dying due to taking a drug they did not intend to take. (continued by clicking link below)

PMA_Warning_INPUD_Oct2013_v.1 (1) (INPUD’s information Sheet)

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PAUL: The devastating collateral damage of an insidious drug-war weapon – Washington Times

PAUL: The devastating collateral damage of an insidious drug-war weapon – Washington Times.

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The Hep C ‘time bomb’

Defuse the hepatitis C “time bomb”;
end the war on people who use drugs.

English: Simplified diagram of the structure o...

English: Simplified diagram of the structure of Hepatitis C virus: A time bomb waiting to happen? (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

World Hepatitis Day is July 28th, and whilst some 500 million people globally are living with hepatitis B or C, the day barely receives any coverage, and there is a massive lack of investment in promoting awareness of this lethal virus which ultimately causes liver cancer and cirrhosis. Because hepatitis C is primarily transmitted through blood to blood contact, the vast bulk of the disease burden falls on people who inject drugs.


Some 10 million of the world’s 16 million people who inject drugs are thought to be infected with hepatitis C, yet because of a chronic lack of surveillance and testing, many are unaware that they are carrying the virus until it has wrought irreparable damage. The failure to adequately respond to this public health catastrophe, one that the WHO has called a “viral time bomb”, is very substantially driven by stigma and drug war politics. The heavy disease burden borne by the injecting community is stoked by investment in repressive responses rather than the basic preventative measures that could avert this entirely avoidable suffering and mass death. The Global Commission on Drug Policy in their recent report The Negative Impact of the War on Drugs on Public Health: The Hidden Hepatitis C Epidemic state that “instead of investing in effective prevention and treatment programmes to achieve the required coverage, governments continue to waste billions of dollars each year on arresting and punishing drug users – a gross misallocation of limited resources that could be more efficiently used for public health and preventive approaches. At the same time, repressive drug policies have fuelled the stigmatisation, discrimination and mass incarceration of people who use drugs”.

Hepatitis C is curable, new drugs coming out of development show 100% cure rates, yet a lack of political pressure to drive down prices leaves them prohibitively expensive for most people, especially in low and middle income countries where the brunt of the disease burden is borne and the legal environment for people who inject drugs is most repressive. In Eastern Europe and Central Asia some 2.3 million, and in South and South East Asia 2.6 million people who inject drugs are infected.


The same tools that can prevent HIV i.e. needle and syringe programs, opiate substitution therapy, and peer led education can also prevent HCV yet they remain woefully under invested in, and in some cases are not provided at all. Even countries that do offer needle and syringe programs do not run them to sufficient scale, have few, if any, 24 hour accessible sites, limit the amounts and types of material available, and rarely offer NSP in prisons. “The mass incarceration of people who use drugs that results from drug war politics is an unequivocal driver of HCV infection amongst our community. We need massive scale up of harm reduction programming and comprehensive peer led education”, said Eliot Albers, Executive Director of the International Network of People who Use Drugs (INPUD).


INPUD, the peak global body representing the drug using community is calling for an end to global prohibition as a necessary prerequisite for addressing this “viral time bomb”, we need a massive switch of resources from enforcement and imprisonment to proven public health measures, and an end to the war on drug users in order to defuse the ever ticking viral time bomb.

Also available at  http://db.tt/46A0gPAl

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Tanzania, TaNPUD and Susan

To add to the East African blogs, I could not finish it without creating a special place here for a wonderful woman I met from Tanzania; You know when you meet someone and you know they don’t really know just how amazing they really are? Well, meet Susan Masanja…

After meeting Tinga from KeNPUD, I met Susan from its’ sister network TaNPUD in Tanzania. Susan willingly gave me her time – in just the 15 short minutes we grabbed together before she got the bus back to the airport,-but Susan managed to get to the point in such a poignant way, I was left thinking about her all afternoon. In this short space of time, Susan managed to express clearly the situation for women sex workers in Tanzania and she left a big impression on me because of  her honesty, her natural grace and this quiet inner strength she just naturally exuded. And, that indefinable something that some women have, you can feel it -when you know they have seen humanity at its worst.

We sat close together on the kerbside as I took notes, and she spoke in a lowered  but serious tone about the terrible circumstances Tanzanian women are facing, every day of their lives and how women’s liberation; real equality of the sexes holds the key to the HIV and sexual health response.

Susan lays down some stats for me;  For every one in 3 sex workers, there must be at least 2 who have an STI or HIV – mostly which is the result of sexual transmission. That even today, after years of education around HIV transmission and using a condom, men STILL don’t want to wear them. And they STILL keep on bargaining with women in desperate circumstances -to pay less with condoms used -and pay more without. And of course it is drug dependent women who face this at the sharp end. When you are sick, hungry, it’s late at night and custom has been bad, its not so hard to make the decision to take the 10000 shillings (approx £4) from a guy to go without a condom, next to the measly 1000 shillings  (40-50 pence) he will give you if you use a condom. Such men are often married – there are big problems in Africa regarding men who ‘bring HIV home’ to their wives, after working away for days or weeks or months at a time. And, as Susan rightly said ‘and it is women that get infected more easily than men, it is women that get HIV!” And of course she is right. Women are almost 4 times more likely to receive HIV from a sexual encounter, than a man is.  In Tanzania, heterosexual intercourse accounts for 80% of all new infections.Women tend to become infected earlier, which is partly due to the tendency of women to have older partners or get married earlier and  (40-50 pence) relaxed attitude regarding their indulgence in extra marital sex.

Mother to child transmission is estimated to account for about 18% of new infections. And about 1.8% of 15 to 24 year olds who reported that they never had sex were found to be HIV positive. This suggests that they were possibly infected through blood transfusion, unsafe injections or traditional practices, including male circumcision and the terrible practice of female genital mutilation. (source Ministry of Health & Social Welfare, Tanzania, 2008)

With a population of almost 47.million people, the HIV rate is 5.6%  -that equates to around 1.6 million people with HIV – just think of that while we sip our cuppa tea in Britain, with our population of 60 odd million and an HIV pop of 124,000. Not that every single HIV positive person isn’t important - they most certainly are – it was just me making perhaps an uncomfortable point -to try and imagine what it must be like to have so many deaths still happening from AIDS – 83,000 Tanzanians died from AIDS in 2011…In the same year, 150,000 Tanzanians were newly infected; that is over 400 new infections every day.

Although the rate of HIV infections has recently fallen slightly, the epidemic’s severity differs widely from region to region, with some regions reporting an HIV prevalence of less than 2 percent (Arusha) and others as high as 16 percent (Iringa). It is in Zanzibar where you get the more concentrated epidemic which is low at 0.6% but isn’t felt like that when it is felt almost entirely amongst the small community of sex workers and injecting drug users and men who have sex with men. (see link to Avert above for refs) Men hold a lot of power in Tanzanian life, and women are often subjected to the furies and outburst of husbands, boyfriends and ‘punters’ , most who will prefer to blame a woman than accepting responsibility for HIV infection themselves. She can be banished from the village, isolated, prevented from seeing her children, not to mention abused, and violated.

Susan told me, “Men take huge liberties -it’s not actually illegal for sex work in Tanzania – so the police take liberties and give you drugs – there are no rooms to work in – so the police take you into the cells and give you the drugs you need for sex. We can’t go to hotels to get some quiet place to work…” Susan continued….”Men take advantage because they know women get sick and they know they are vulnerable and then they can offer less money and it will be taken when the women need it. Women also don’t realise they can be re-infected with HIV,  they often presume they are already HIV infected and that they can’t get HIV again.” Susan spoke quietly about a terrible beating she was given in a hotel by a man who took a room but who had been drinking. “A very bad beating…” she repeated slowly, as we both sat quietly on the curbside, looking at the ground. Ones’ mind can only imagine the fear and pain of such a situation -and then having nowhere to go for help or retribution.

When I asked Susan what can be done to improve things for Tanzanian women she suddenly sat up. “Men are not getting educated in to how to treat women! We also need good quality condoms and lubricant – (not the cheap thin ones that break or condoms without the lubricant!). You have to worry not only about the sex and the partner but how well men are educated – some men don’t understand about infections…” Which must make life a lot harder for women in such a macho culture.

Susan looked determined, “we need to empower women to be more assertive – my friend she drinks, she smokes and has 5 kids and small babies, I say ‘why don’t you want to use contraception?’ It is always the way – she can’t always access it -or she thinks a new baby will keep the next man with her to help her to be a family.” I asked Susan what she would like to say to Tanzanian women. “One thing I would like to say is for women to come out, not to have doubts or fears – there is nothing to hide – we have rights” . Susan was talking about being loud and proud!

Sometimes such words are easy to write down, but with Susan, they just cannot convey the incredible strength she exuded as such a young woman; one of those special women you just know are capable of doing momentous things. She is right -women need the support to become more assertive but at the same time we MUST educate the men, as young boys. Drive home equality between the sexes and rights in law for women. Quality education for the police in implementing these laws that affect women’s lives -and of course harm reduction information. Wow, what a job laid out ahead for Susan and her peers. But wow, what a woman to have on the right side! Final word from Susan…”We need more awareness (on these issues) and to come out and say it and talk for ourselves, we need to talk about this  and be recognized for who we are!”

But, with women like Susan fighting the cause, and some committed funding and

English: Coat of arms of Tanzania Deutsch: Sta...

Coat of arms of Tanzania  (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

resourcing of grassroots organisations like TaNPUD, there are many springs of  hope for the future, beginning with the first drug user’s harm reduction conference in Mombassa, Kenya in November this year. I’ll post a link shortly. Or contact TaNPud direct: Tanpud@hotmail.com

NOTE: Please do take the time out to read a book of 26 stories by young HIV positive Tanzanian people, click here

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