|The Asian Harm Reduction Network (UNAIDS, 2001, 48 p.)|
With the onset of HIV/AIDS in the 1980s, the problem of drug use in Asia entered a new and more dangerous era. In addition to other means, the AIDS virus is transmitted through the sharing of contaminated needles, syringes, and other paraphernalia employed by drug users. Since many countries in Asia have a serious problem with drug use, and others are highly vulnerable, the prevention of HIV/AIDS among drug users is one of the priority areas for UNAIDS in this region.
Those working in the field of prevention of drug use and HIV/AIDS are very well aware that no simple interventions can solve the problem in a short period of time. Drug users are a highly vulnerable group; in many countries, the legal and political environment makes them hard to reach for preventive interventions. Many of them are very poor, a factor that contributes to their vulnerability. Health and social services often are not equipped to address their needs. Drug users rights are frequently violated, and in several communities drug users are used as scapegoats for many social evils. Risk-reduction measures are successful if we encourage legal and political environments in which we can deliver interventions, if we provide the necessary health and rehabilitation facilities, if we address poverty, and if we work on the tremendous negative image that many people attribute to drug users. Over the past few years, UNAIDS, particularly the Asia-Pacific Intercountry Team, and the Asian Harm Reduction Network have focused on reducing drug users vulnerability.
UNAIDS and the Asian Harm Reduction Network share a considerable part of their histories and philosophies: both organizations began their operations in 1996, both are using networking as one of their main tools, and both consider HIV/AIDS among drug users a priority area. We believe that effective responses have to be carried out in synergy: UNAIDS with its cosponsors and key partners; the Asian Harm Reduction Network with its members.
Over the past years, we have achieved some results in the prevention of HIV transmission among drug users, particularly in the area of advocacy; those achievements were possible only because we worked in tandem. But much remains to be done by both UNAIDS and the Asian Harm Reduction Network. We continue to see frighteningly high prevalence rates among drug users in many countries of Asia, and still there are no appropriate large-scale interventions. We know how to prevent HIV transmission among drug users and we have developed the tools to do it. Now the time has come for large-scale implementation of programmes, and this requires once again that we join forces.
This case study demonstrates that the Asian Harm Reduction Network has the potential to be again a decisive catalyst for action, to provide the skills-building capacities for largescale interventions, and to assist all those in the communities to do what needs to be done. Looking back at our common history, I am convinced that the Intercountry Team together with its cosponsors and partners, and the Asian Harm Reduction Network with its many competent members, can contribute significantly. In cooperation we can reduce the incidence of HIV infection and other drug-related harm among drug users in Asia and provide care and support to those who need it.
Dr Wiwat Rojanapithayakorn, Team Leader
UNAIDS Asia-Pacific Intercountry Team
Bangkok, December 2000