Reasons for Drug Policy Reform

Michel_Kazatchkine_2012

Text: Michel Kazatchkine, UN secretary general special envoy on HIV/AIDS in Eastern Europe and Central Asia

Why is eastern Europe the only region in the world that still has a growing HIV epidemic? In one of the region’s countries, Russia, more than two thirds of all HIV infections, and 55% of the near 100 000 new infections reported last year, resulted from drug injection.

Some 3.2 million people in eastern Europe inject drugs, and about 1.5 million of them are in Russia. In 2007 the number of newly reported HIV cases among Russian people who inject drugs (12 538) was similar to the number in the rest of eastern Europe (12 026). But since then the numbers have diverged hugely.

Scaling up of harm reduction programmes in several countries coincided with a stabilising of HIV rates—and fewer than 7000 new cases outside Russia in 2014. In Russia, however, where access to sterile needles and syringes is low and opioid substitutes remain illegal and unavailable, the number of people who inject drugs newly infected with HIV climbed to nearly 22 500 in 2014.

Criminalisation of drug use

The reasons for Russia’s high figures include the prohibition and effective criminalisation of drug use, repressive law enforcement, and stigma around drug use. These factors lead people to inject in unsafe conditions for fear of police and arrests and result in needle sharing and overdose.

In 2015, the United Nations’ secretary general, Ban Ki-Moon, called for “careful rebalancing of the international policy on controlled drugs.”

“We must consider alternatives to criminalisation and incarceration of people who use drugs,” he said. “We should increase the focus on public health, prevention, treatment, and care.”

The World Health Organization, the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, and UNAIDS jointly recommend a package of harm reduction interventions as best practice to reduce the risk of acquiring, and improve treatment of, HIV, hepatitis, and tuberculosis among people who inject drugs. Such strategies, which do not require prohibition of harmful behaviours, are key to reducing death and disease because drug dependency is characterised by people’s inability to abstain.

Continue reading here.

UNAIDS Regional Director for Eastern Europe & Central Asia Address

wad2016_day_hp_2_jpg1 December 2016, UNAIDS — Dear colleagues!

On the occasion of World AIDS Day, 1 December 2016, on behalf of the UNAIDS Regional Office for Eastern Europe and Central Asia, I am pleased to share some important updates on the new UNAIDS global report and key events and initiatives in the HIV response in our region.

This week UNAIDS launched our new global report ‘Get on the Fast-Track: The life-cycle approach to HIV’ showing that countries are getting on the Fast-Track, with an additional one million people accessing treatment globally in just six months (January to June 2016). By June 2016, approximately 18.2 million [16.1 million–19.0 million] people living with HIV had access to the life-saving treatment, including 910 000 children – double the number five years earlier. If these efforts are sustained and increased, the world will be on track to achieve the target of 30 million people on treatment by 2020. Please see the full report here.

On 3 November 2016, Ministries of Health from 12 countries of Eastern Europe and Central Asia adopted the Minsk Statement on ‘HIV and Tuberculosis: Treatment for All’, calling for expanded and rapidly scaled-up access to affordable, quality-assured medicines for HIV and TB. Please see more information about the meeting and the adopted Statement here.

The Government of Ukraine has announced that in 2017 it will double funding from the national budget for HIV and TB treatment, and fully finance the national opioid substitution therapy programme for people who inject drugs – a key population in Ukraine that is at higher risk of HIV infection. Please see more information here.

The first National AIDS Conference in Kazakhstan ‘HIV: Yesterday, Today, Tomorrow’ was held in Almaty on 12-13 October 2016. Over 170 representatives of government, academia, health sector and civil society groups from different regions of Kazakhstan joined the event and discussed the importance of measures to be taken to put Kazakhstan on the Fast-Track. Please see more information here.

On the occasion of the International Day of Youth, a series of activities were organized by the Youth Foundation of Armenia to raise awareness among young people about healthy lifestyles and HIV prevention. One of the main events was a concert in Yerevan on 17 November 2016, attended by over 10.000 youth. Information about HIV testing and prevention was shared through social videos, leaflets and other materials throughout the day.

In Tajikistan, the Minister of Health called for people to know their HIV status during the first ever public event on HIV prevention in Dushanbe. The event, in support of the ‘Hands up for #HIVprevention’ campaign, united more than 500 representatives of the Government of Tajikistan, health professionals, celebrities and young people. Please see more information here.

In the Russian Federation, the next phase of the national campaign ‘#StopHIVAIDS’ will be launched on 28 November in Moscow, under the leadership of Svetlana Medvedeva’s Foundation for Social and Cultural Initiatives. As part of this campaign, a series of activities will take place across Russia from 28 November to 4 December, including open lectures in schools, vocational schools and universities. The campaign will feature the Russian Minister of Health, Veronika Skvortsova, Minister of Education, Olga Vasilieva, Minister of Communications and Mass Media, Nikolai Nikiforov, the Head of Rospotrebnadzor, Anna Popova, and various non-governmental organizations. Please see more information about the campaign here.

22Please join the UNAIDS World AIDS Day Hands Up for #HIVprevention campaign. The campaign is focused on different aspects of HIV prevention, offering space for people to express their views on what they think needs to be done to strengthen HIV prevention efforts. You can upload your photo/video on the special campaign event page on Facebook or Twitter. Thank you for helping us in raising awareness and reaching wider audiences. We encourage you to join the campaign!

I would like to end this letter with a video message by Michel Sidibé, UNAIDS Executive Director on the occasion of World AIDS Day 2016.

Sincerely,

Vinay P. Saldanha
UNAIDS Regional Director for Eastern Europe & Central Asia