Reference Group calls on UN Member States to scale-up evidence-based interventions to address HIV among people who use drugs

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Reference Group calls on UN Member States to scale-up evidence-based interventions to address HIV among people who use drugs

25 May 2011

Credit: UNAIDS

Ahead of the 2011 United Nations High Level Meeting on AIDS, the Reference Group to the United Nations on HIV and Injecting Drug Use has issued a statement calling for Member States to focus on HIV transmission among people who inject drugs. The statement details eight key priorities for Member States as they negotiate the outcome document for June’s General Assembly meeting.  

“Harm reduction is neither a matter of rhetoric, nor of politics. It is evidence-based and when implemented to scale, reduces HIV transmission among people who inject drugs,” says Bronwyn Myers, Reference Group Secretariat and Specialist Scientist at the Medical Research Council.

The statement issued by the Reference Group asks governments to commit to scaling-up evidence-based interventions to addressing HIV among people who inject drugs. It details a rights-based public health approach to achieving universal access, such as providing anti-retroviral treatment to people who are living with HIV, and it calls for countries to revise punitive drug and law enforcement policies that can undermine the AIDS response and human rights. 

Denying drug users life-saving HIV treatments and drug treatment violates their right to health and harms the community, since it is now known that HIV treatment reduces viral load and can prevent HIV transmission

Dr Steffanie Strathdee, Associate Dean of Global Health, UC San Diego; and member of the Independent Reference Group to the UN on HIV and Injecting Drug Use

“There is still a misconception that people who use drugs can not adhere to HIV treatment regimens, but research shows that they adhere well, especially if HIV treatment is offered in conjunction with drug treatment,” said Steffanie Strathdee, Associate Dean of Global Health at UC San Diego and a member of the Reference Group. “Denying drug users life-saving HIV treatments and drug treatment violates their right to health and harms the community, since it is now known that HIV treatment reduces viral load and can prevent HIV transmission,” Dr Strathdee said. 

The Reference Group further underscored the importance of Member States’ ensuring access to the comprehensive package of nine interventions outlined in the WHO, UNODC, UNAIDS technical guide for the prevention and treatment of HIV among people who inject drugs. The need to engage people who inject drugs in the shaping of AIDS responses was also underline. It also highlighted that too many countries have little to no behavioural surveillance on people who inject drugs; even fewer of those who do, have no basic programmes such as needle syringe exchange programmes and opioid substitution therapy. 

The statement is a call to the international community to renew its commitment to equitable access to HIV prevention, care and treatment among people who inject drugs and to recognize that injecting drug use is a global phenomenon which affects HIV transmission in both concentrated and generalized epidemic settings. 

Reference Group to the UN on HIV and Injecting Drug Use

The Reference Group to the United Nations on HIV and Injecting Drug Use was established in 2002 to advise the UN on the epidemiology of HIV and HIV prevention among people who inject drugs. The Group comprises independent experts and its views and recommendations do not necessarily reflect the positions of the United Nations, the UNAIDS Secretariat or its Cosponsors.