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Lao PDR:  Authorities Sensitized on HIV and Harm Reduction Interventions

HIV IDU workshop Oudomxay Laos

Vientiane - 07 September 2010:  Over 50 law enforcement, health department and drug control officials from the central to the district level attended a four-day workshop on drug control and related HIV issues in the province of Oudomxay in northern Lao PDR from 16 - 19 August 2010.

The goal of the workshop was to harmonize understanding among relevant line ministries on the threat of HIV.  Officials from the Ministry of Public Security, the Center for HIV and AIDS and the Commission on Drug Control and Supervision were educated on the concept of drug harm reduction, and were also briefed on priority interventions, which target a very vulnerable group of the population.

Emerging patterns of Injecting Drug Use along northern trafficking routes are a source of serious concern. With some neighboring countries reporting staggering rates of 40 percent HIV positive people among the IDU population in some provinces.

Two rapid assessment response (RAR) surveys conducted by the National Task Force on HIV and AIDS in the northern Lao PDR earlier this year revealed that while HIV infection rates for Injecting Drug Users are still lower than in neighboring countries, they are considerably higher than for the non-injecting group.  These findings have established, for the first time, a direct link between Injecting Drug Use and higher HIV prevalence in the Lao PDR.

IDUMeeting participants were further briefed on the current situation, which underlines the urgency for an immediate and coordinated response to the HIV problem, and the importance of immediate action to reduce HIV infections among drug users and their communities.

Supported by the government of Australia through the HIV AIDS Asia Regional Program - HAARP, the UNODC HIV AIDS harm reduction project is the first project of its kind in the country.  It began operations in late 2009, and is planned to span five years.  Combing advocacy efforts at policy level with harm reduction interventions on the ground, the project aims to reduce the harm associated with drug use in the Lao PDR, thus preventing the rise of HIV and AIDS.

Planned harm reduction activities in the two pilot provinces of Oudomxay and Phongsaly were also presented, and included activities ranging from peer education and outreach work to treatment and harm reduction programs for drug users and counseling services for their partners.