International conference on harm reduction in Liverpool

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International conference on harm reduction in Liverpool

28 April 2010

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Harm Reduction 2010, the 21st International conference organized by the International Harm Reduction Association is taking place in Liverpool, England from 25 – 29 April 2010. Under the theme ‘Harm Reduction: The Next Generation’, the conference has attracted around 1400 delegates from around 80 countries to share knowledge, network and promote evidence-based best practices in the field of reducing harms from drugs and alcohol.

A wide variety of participants attending include front line workers, researchers, policy makers, politicians, people from international organizations, people who use drugs and people working in criminal justice.

UNAIDS Executive Director Michel Sidibé delivered a video message at the opening ceremony where he emphasized his call to decriminalize drug users as centerpiece for an effective response to HIV.

He also underscored that in spite of the scientific evidence showing the positive results of harm reduction programmes as well as its policy and political support, there is still a long way to go.

A study recently published in The Lancet found that injecting drug users often have little or no access to evidence-informed comprehensive HIV services. Globally, only two needles and syringes are distributed to injecting drug users per month and only 8 per cent of injecting drug users receives opioid substitution therapy.

Particular attention will be paid during the conference to the growing HIV epidemic in Eastern Europe and Central Asia which is primarily being fuelled by unsafe injecting drug use. According to UNAIDS injecting drug users are those most affected by the epidemic in the region where 1.5 million people were living with HIV in 2008, a two-thirds increase from 2001 in number of new HIV infections. HIV is also spreading to the sexual partners of people who inject drugs.

After a slow start many countries in the region have made a big push for harm reduction. For example Ukraine has the highest HIV infection level in Europe and a third of injecting drug users are living with HIV. But in recent years the HIV epidemic among drug users has stabilized in the country due to a scale-up in needle and syringe exchange and, more recently, drug substitution programs.

Many studies have shown that when harm reduction services reach drug users they reduce needle sharing, and opioid substitution therapy reduces risk taking and deaths. Another large study conducted in more than 100 cities shows that where harm reduction is available, HIV infection rate reduces by nearly 19% and where it is not, it increases by 8%.

Effective harm reduction approaches include access to clean needles, opioid substitution therapy for opiate users, access to antiretroviral therapy and reducing sexual transmission of HIV from drug users to their sexual partners through condom promotion.

The 2010 Harm Reduction conference includes high profile keynote speeches, plenary sessions, symposia, workshops, training events, a film festival, poster exhibitions, exhibition areas, satellite meetings, social and networking events, and the annual IHRA award presentations. Also, a ground breaking report on the global lack of funding for HIV-related harm reduction titled 3 Cents a day is not enough was launched at the conference.