A Seat at the Table with US AIDS Ambassador

Dear readers – this was another momentous moment for the PUDs history book. As previously mentioned, the new US HIV/AIDS ambassador was at UNAIDS, and Mat Southwell sat down to chat…here’s what happened.


Dr. Eric Goosby, CEO and Chief Medical Officer of Pangaea Global AIDS Foundation, takes a seat for his confirmation hearing before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee to be President Obama's Director of the Office of the Global AIDS Coordinator, on Capitol Hill on June 9, 2009 in Washington, DC. Goosby has been involved in the fight against HIV/AIDS for over 25 years, beginning with his treatment of petients at San Francisco General Hospital when AIDS first emerged. (Photo by Jonathan Ernst/Getty Images)

Meeting between Harm Reduction NGOs and the new US Delegation at UNAIDS PCB

In his inaugural speech to the UNAIDS PCB yesterday, Michel Sibide, the UNAIDS Executive Director, reminded us how even after Pandoras box was opened, and many miseries were inflicted on the world, there remained hope.

Along with many other marginalised populations, the drug using community has held its breath as first President Obama stood for office and was then elected as the first black President of the United States of America. I remember getting up at 7 am to hear the results and finding myself in tears filled with hope that a country that had opposed harm reduction was changing.

The Commission on Narcotic Drugs (CND) was a coming of age event for INPUD. We showed the depth of expertise in our community as 30 people who use drugs from around the world came together to call for a peace in the War on Drugs. However, the US Delegation at CND didn’t become overnight champions for harm reduction and we wondered whether this was just the unavoidable confusion that comes with the changing of the guard or whether our hopes had been overinflated.

During his speech, Michel notified the meeting that the new US administration had worked hard to ensure that the new US AIDS Ambassador, Dr Goosby, would be in post in time to take part in the meeting. When Dr Goosby subsequently arrived, the welcoming applause highlighted the sense of expectation that exists more broadly in the AIDS community.

Over lunch I was invited to attend a meeting that had been arranged with Dr Goosby and his team by Allan Clear from the US Harm Reduction Coalition. Vitaly Djuma from the Russian Harm Reduction Alliance and few other NGO representatives were also present. We met with the full US team including representatives from PEPFAR and other parts of the Department of State.

The meeting was wide ranging covering the US approach to harm reduction generally and in particular Dr Goosby recognition of needle exchange and opiate substitution therapies as science-based HIV prevention interventions. We discussed the US’s historic concerns surrounding the use of the term harm reduction and the misperception that it is equivalent to legalisation. Dr Goosby identified the limits of the US position; clarifying that the US did not support heroin prescribing or consumption rooms.

We talked about the limitations placed on compliance with ARV treatments when OST are not present.

We further discussed the need to include the voices of people who use drugs in the discussion of policy and practice. Dr Goosby acknowledged the importance of engaging people who use drugs in order to inform and guide the implementation and review of interventions with our community.

After the official meeting, we had an informal discussion with members of the US delegation. This included a frank conversation about the role of drug user organisations. While the US accept the need to engage people who use drugs, they have been more hesitant about engaging drug user organisations. The perception for some is that we are hard core legalisers who don’t reflect the wider diversity within our community. I clarified that we had been working very hard to reflect the pluralism within our community. I stated my own position as a legaliser and acknowledged that these views are held by many of our community. However, I highlighted that our movement includes people who inject drugs, drug treatment advocates and ex-drug users.

I highlighted the important role that people who use drugs can play in championing the cause of HIV prevention and harm reduction services. I particularly highlighted the challenges faced by people who use drugs living in the USA who do not receive financial support to engage in international advocacy because they are from the leading developed world country. I stressed that people who use in drugs in the US often live in marginalised situations that can be equivalent to situations faced by some in the developing world.

We concluded by agreeing to establish a communication channel between the harm reduction movement and the US delegation when problems or points of difference arise. This won’t limit our ability to speak out publicly in the interests of our community but it reflects the normal diplomatic practice that exists between NGOs and progressive countries.

It is important to understand that this is the beginning of a conversation. We need to be realistic that we will continue to have points of difference with the US. However, we do have clear areas where we share common interests and have common concerns. The major change is that the US are willing to talk to different stakeholders even where differences exist. I confirmed our ability to work with partners on areas of shared interests while respecting areas of difference. This is the beginning of a journey with a significant international partner. We need to continue demonstrating our ability to operate as a constructive, reflective and informed partner in international affairs.

Hope continues even if it is tempered by an awareness of how far the international community has to go to meaningfully engage our community and to address the impact of the AIDS and Hepatitis C pandemics within our community.

Mat Southwell


About Erin

Freelance writer and journalist for the global drug user press
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2 Responses to A Seat at the Table with US AIDS Ambassador

  1. Satxa Rosselló says:

    Mathew it’s ok your diplomacy, have you all my logistic suport.
    Satxa, ASUT Iberica “Plataforma Drogológica”


  2. Lulu Ortega says:

    Great about you meeting with Mr: Dr. Eric Goosby, and trying to start in friendly atmosphere news alliance and build together better projects.
    Is obviusly they never accepy the Comsumes Rooms and speak about legalizes and legislation the psicotropic sustance, because this means to reconized the differents culturals identity, to clean money, stop the narcosmafias, this means lost a lot money and the most important to lost the control in the political and economic strategys.
    For the US goverment the drugs are only a strategy tools for influence and control territories and strong powerfull in the world.
    If you read the differents studies and books from Paul krugman where he explain how black money go into wall street to buy weapons and militarys dominations. With Obama we are hopefull that some things can will change, but the new political way from Miss Clinton and Mr Obama will want to implant in Mexico, don’t like to narcos carteles, and this “golpe de estado” in Honduras is the answer. Even too in Colombia, where Uribe keep the best “friend” to US administrations, this nmeans that many amonts of money fluide into american economy. Weel in few words, they don’t care nothing about the D.U. health or care about toxix or colateral effects from the drugs, for the U.S. administrations “drugs” is only a strategy, military intervetions and control territories for the influence in world decitions is only power strategy and military control over the world.
    is grest to will work together and in respecting the differents approach in the harm Reduction, but at this point I think that the harm reduction if is not together with the DU reality, and don’t get the empowerment and restitution the dignifies citizen to the DU, will be failure like drugs war….
    The other think very important is why they uses 2 misure to judge the DU, if you are Kate Moos, Naomi Campbell you can say and show that you use drugs and Channel give a lot money, they going one month in Rehab and after everybody laughing, but is you are a working class “nobody” you have to suffer and lost……what we say to the young people, that only rich and famous people can use drugs!………..
    I think are many economic and strategy interesting, but too are many people who want to stop all this wars and aks to legalize the drugs, is the only way to “stop this slaughter= massacre”.
    Thanks very much
    Lulu Ortega
    Plataforma Drogologica.


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