Lao PDR

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haarp signing

Article from Vientiane Times
Author: Vientiane Times Staff
Published: 22/07/2009
Newspaper section: International Cooperation

The Government of Australia has provided AUD$4 million (more than 27 billion kip) to support harm reduction approaches under the HIV/AIDS Asia Regional Programme (HAARP).

Australian Ambassador to the Lao PDR, Dr Michele Forster and UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) Representative, Mr Leik Boonwaat yesterday signed the agreement on support for the programme in Laos at Green Park Hotel in Vientiane .

According to the parties involved, it signalled the close partnership and commitment to ultimately reduce the harms associated with drug use and thus preventing the rise of HIV in the country.

The fund will be operated by the UNODC over the next six years, in close cooperation with the World Health Organisation (WHO) and the Government of the Lao PDR.

Dr Forster said HAARP would provide support to interventions aimed at promoting effective harm reduction approaches in order to prevent the transmission of HIV amongst male and female infecting drug users and their partners in the South East Asian region and China .

"Our government and UNODC have formalised our agreement to jointly tackle the spread of HIV infection among drug users in Laos ," she said.

In Laos , HAARP would support harm reduction activities in the country in line with national plans and priorities, she said.

" Australia is strongly committed to providing ongoing and sustained support to the Lao government to help it achieve the Millennium Development Goal target of halting and reversing the spread of HIV and AIDS by 2015," she said.

She said the current low prevalence of infecting drug use presented an important opportunity to prevent HIV transmission amongst people who inject drugs in Laos .

With an anticipated increase in the incidence of injecting drug use in coming years, timely action was needed to avert the spread of the HIV epidemic among injecting drug users.

The concept of harm reduction was relatively new to most agencies working in Laos .

An organised effort at sensitisation and advocacy was needed to motivate and influence decision makers and community leaders to accept harm reduction's benefits.

Harm reduction was seen as a pragmatic, evidence-based approach to respond to the dual epidemics of drug use and HIV infection, she said.

"Through this cooperation with UNODC on HAARP, Australia hopes to contribute to the strengthening of the capacity of government, communities and civil society organisations in Laos to prevent this destructive and debilitating health issue from taking hold in the country," she said.

Mr Leik Boonwaat said the injecting drug users mostly used heroin. Incidences occuured mainly in border regions and also in Vientiane.

Use of drug injection was also found in neighbouring countries as well.

"The Australian Government is playing an important role on HIV prevention in Laos . I look forward to cooperating with them as stakeholders in this partnership," he said.

According to a press release from UNODC, although Laos is considered a low HIV prevalence nation, there is a great risk of escalation.

Given the reported increase in injecting drug use, drug users have been identified as one group extremely vulnerable to HIV infection.

HAARP in Lao PDR will contribute to achieving development priorities stated in the National Strategy and Action Plan on HIV/AIDS/STIs and the National Drug Control Masterplan.