United Nations member states are failing to provide HIV and harm reduction services to people who inject drugs (PWID). That is according to a new report from the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS) that found that the HIV infection rate has risen among PWID during the current decade—an estimated 1.4 percent of the PWID population contracted the virus in 2017—even as the global infection rate has declined.
Titled Health, rights and drugs: harm reduction, decriminalization and zero discrimination for people who use drugs, the report found that just 1 percent of the estimated 10.4 million people who injected drugs in 2016 lived in nations that provide adequate harm reduction services, including HIV testing and treatment. More than half of these individuals, the report estimated, have hepatitis C virus (HCV) and one in eight are HIV positive.
“UNAIDS is greatly concerned about the lack of progress for people who inject drugs, which is due to the failure of many countries to implement evidence-informed, human rights-based approaches to drug use,” said Michel Sidibé, executive director of UNAIDS. “By putting people at the center and ensuring that they have access to health and social services with dignity and without discrimination or criminalization, lives can be saved and new HIV infections drastically reduced.”
Research has shown that syringe services programs (SSPs), a form of harm reduction that provide PWID with clean injection drug use materials and other supportive services, are associated with a reduction in HIV risk. Politicians often shun such programs, citing a false belief that SSPs only encourage illegal drug taking, or, at the very least, are overly permissive.
UNAIDS urges member states to do the following, among other efforts, to help care for PWID:
- Provide comprehensive harm reduction services, including access to drug dependence treatment;
- Provide access to testing and treatment for HIV, tuberculosis (TB), hepatitis B virus (HBV) and HCV and sexually transmitted infections;
- Decriminalize drug use and possession of drugs for personal use, and, in nations where drugs remain illegal, ensure access to legal services and, ultimately, justice for PWID;
- Reduce stigma toward PWID.
To read the report, click here.
To read a press release about the report, click here.