It is that time again where drug user activists from all around the world, INPUD members included, are drawn together to present, discuss, debate and deliberate on harm reduction, at the bi-annual International Harm Reduction Conference, organised by Harm reduction International.
The theme of the Conference 2013 is ‘The Value/s of harm reduction’. While it may seem obvious to many of us who use drugs of the value of harm reduction as we continue to use and develop it as both a theory and practice in every moment of our using lives, the day is far from over when we can rest on our laurels, content that we have proven the point that Harm Reduction saves lives. Yet how many times must we say it? How much evidence must we collate to show needle and syringe programmes, opiate Substitution Therapies and peer education and involvement reduce HIV and HCV transmission and infection rates? How many more reports must be researched and written to show peer involvement and partnership working is essential to empowering the drug using community to become the solution to the issues confronting our communities?
Conference delegates….What a lovely bunch!
Yet, as ever we live in a complex, corrupt and diverse world and it has never been more urgent to continue pushing to the forefront the powerful, ethical basis of the harm reduction philosophy to those who are able to provide sufficient political and financial support to address the HIV epidemic. An epidemic that has, through vast amounts of money, commitment, collaboration and determination, almost reversed itself in some areas of the world saving millions of lives and country economies. Yet, at the very same time we all must witness nothing short of genocide of our own peer group. That through the sheer lack of political will by certain policy makers and governments to face this overwhelming and progressive harm reduction evidence base, that we are now seeing transmission rates, death and disease spiraling out of control in particular regions of the globe, namely Eurasia.
Special focus on Eurasia
The Eurasian region, comprising of Central and Eastern Europe, as well as Central Asia, is home to over 3.7 million people who inject drugs, representing almost one-quarter of people who inject worldwide. As INPUD members comprised of people who inject drugs, we have to listen and watch (while we all do everything we can to act) as injecting drug use is named as ‘the driver’ of the HIV epidemics in most countries in Eurasia, where an estimated one million people who inject are living with HIV. The language of infection and transmission is used in some parts of the world to procure funds for this spiralling epidemic that is killing our brothers and sisters, – while in other parts of the world, the very same language is used to label our peers with the stigma, discrimination and fear that allows so many to be treated like criminals, shunned, derided, despised. In addition to HIV, people who inject drugs in the region experience an extremely high prevalence of hepatitis C, as well as high risk of overdose, which is the leading cause of death among opiate users in many countries of Eastern Europe and Central Asia. When will this ‘tide’ begin to reverse, like we have seen it reverse in other parts of the world? How long must we see diplomacy do its puppet dance, while deals are made in back rooms in the United Nations, only to be broken in the government halls of countries across the world.
Harm Reduction 2013 is focusing on key issues affecting the Eurasian region including the retreat of donors, the lack of national government funding for harm reduction, the influence of repressive law enforcement and human rights abuses that currently take place in the countries of Eurasia.
INPUD will use the opportunity to meet with its many members and friends to discuss ways forward, update on the complexities of global advocacy, and hear what our hard working peers, colleagues and allies have been doing in countries across the world. I aim to bring some of these discussions to you over the coming days.
As we thank God for our committed and incredible colleagues working so hard to improve the health and welfare of people across the world, so we must also spend a silent moment for those in such regions of Eurasia, where the violence, disease and human rights violations continue to spread like a fire, sanctioned by the very governments and officials whose remit it is to care for the health and welfare of its citizens, especially its young, elderly and vulnerable ones.
And here is an update from the EMCDDA on Lithuania and its drug situation, worth a read, however I will do a very brief summery of the most interesting bits for our community, later today.