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UNAIDS urges countries to adopt a people, rights and health-centred approach to reverse the HIV epidemic among people who inject drugs

Ahead of the United Nations General Assembly Special Session on the World Drug Problem, which will take place from 19 to 21 April in New York, United States of America, UNAIDS has released a new report entitled Do no harm: health, human rights and people who use drugs.

The report shows that the failure of many countries to adopt health- and rights-based approaches resulted in no reduction in the global number of new HIV infections among people who inject drugs between 2010 and 2014. The world has missed the United Nations General Assembly’s target set in 2011 to reduce HIV transmission among people who inject drugs by 50% by 2015.

“Business as usual is clearly getting us nowhere,” said Michel SidibĂ©, Executive Director of UNAIDS. “The world must learn the lessons of the past 15 years, following the example of countries that have reversed their HIV epidemics among people who inject drugs by adopting harm reduction approaches that prioritize people’s health and human rights.”

The UNAIDS report presents the evidence base for five policy recommendations and 10 operational recommendations that countries should apply to turn around their HIV epidemics among people who inject drugs. These recommendations include the implementation of harm reduction programmes to scale and the decriminalization of the consumption and possession of drugs for personal use.

Data demonstrate that countries implementing health- and rights-based approaches have reduced new HIV infections among people who inject drugs. In other countries, strategies based on criminalization and aggressive law enforcement have created barriers to harm reduction while having little or no impact on the number of people who use drugs. Imprisoning people for the consumption and possession of drugs for personal use also increases their vulnerability to HIV and other infectious diseases, such as hepatitis B, hepatitis C and tuberculosis, while incarcerated.

UNAIDS has developed the UNAIDS 2016-2021 Strategy to put the world on track to ending the AIDS epidemic as a public health threat by 2030 – a target within the Sustainable Development Goals. A critical target within this Fast-Track approach is the expansion of a combination of HIV prevention and harm reduction services to reach 90% of people who inject drugs by 2020.