|The Asian Harm Reduction Network (UNAIDS, 2001, 48 p.)|
Although drug use had been widespread in many countries in Asia for a considerable time, and HIV/AIDS epidemics began to develop in the late 1980s, governments and many nongovernmental organizations did not respond adequately to these serious problems. Even the response from intergovernmental organizations, including United Nations bodies and entities, was hesitant. The main reasons for this inadequate response were historical, political, and cultural considerations related to drug use, and the absence of an effective mechanism to lobby for policy reform and effective interventions in that field. The establishment of AHRN in 1996 changed the political landscape significantly: it provided a voice for the few who did pioneering work in the field of drug use and HIV/AIDS.
The setting up of AHRN as an open technical resource network was most appropriate, allowing for the unification of all the diverse forces existing already in the area: field-level workers, researchers, politicians, officials from government agencies, nongovernmental and intergovernmental organizations, and last, but not least, drug users themselves. Forming AHRN as a network also provided the basis for pooling technical, human, and financial resources; for sharing information; for mutual support of network members; and for developing much-needed advocacy strategies.
What happened quickly after the formation of AHRN confirmed the need for its establishment: the number of network members soared from 46 at the beginning to more than 1,000 twelve months after its inception. AHRN had not yet established its office when requests for support from national and international organizations were received. AHRN was decisive in establishing a task force on drug use and HIV/AIDS 1997 in Bangkok; readjusting the work programmes of UNAIDS and UNDCP to put more emphasis, respectively, on drug use and HIV/AIDS; bringing drug use and HIV/AIDS to the agendas of governments; and lobbying relentlessly for pragmatic and humane prevention approaches.
It would not be right, of course, to say that no action had been taken in the area of HIV/AIDS and drug use until 1996. A number of organizations and individuals worked very hard to prevent HIV transmission among drug users. Some, due to ignorance, did the wrong things - rounding up drug users, chaining them for fear of HIV/AIDS, and putting them into prisons. In hindsight, it is amazing how strong a change occurred once the network was formed. The example of AHRN shows that the impact of an open network does not result simply from the combined impact of its components; the interactions between network members result in a much stronger force than the sum of its parts.