U.N. Anti-Drug Efforts Contributing to Spread of HIV, Advocates Say
Members of the United Nations this week are expected to sign a declaration to extend a "war on drugs," a policy that some critics argue is ineffective and contributes to the spread of HIV, Reuters reports. The U.N. Office on Drugs and Crime is drafting the declaration, which calls for a 10-year renewal on efforts to eradicate all narcotics by using law enforcement to target traffickers and producers and end drug use worldwide.
Some critics of the policy say the declaration's lack of focus on harm-reduction strategies, including needle-exchange programs for injection drug users, has increased the spread of HIV and other diseases. In addition, some drug policy advocates, social scientists and health experts say that the strategy has not been successful, with statistics indicating that drug production, trafficking and use have increased during the past 10 years. The cost of law enforcement also has increased, according to statistics. UNODC Director Antonio Maria Costa said, "The crime and corruption associated with the drug trade are providing strong evidence to a vocal minority of pro-drug lobbyists to argue that the cure is worse than the disease. This would be a historical mistake, one which United Nations member states are not willing to make." Reuters reports that the declaration is expected to be signed in Vienna, Austria, on Wednesday or Thursday (Baker, Reuters, 3/10).
A statement released on Wednesday by Human Rights Watch, the International AIDS Society and the International Harm Reduction Association called for member governments not to support the declaration because "critical elements" to prevent HIV were stripped from the final document. The statement said, "What is at issue is a series of measures known collectively as 'harm reduction services,' which have been endorsed by U.N. health and drug-control agencies," including the UNODC, UNAIDS and the World Health Organization. According to the statement, such measures include needle- and syringe-exchange programs and medication-assisted therapy, inside and outside prisons, which are "essential to address HIV among people who use drugs." According to the groups, a "wealth of evidence proves harm reduction is essential to HIV prevention for people who use drugs." Up to 30% of all HIV infections outside sub-Saharan Africa occur through unsafe injecting drug use, the groups said, adding that there is "clear evidence that harm-reduction interventions can halt or even reverse HIV epidemics among people who inject drugs" (HRW/IAS/IHRA release, 3/11).