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The 6th meeting of the United Nations Regional Task Force (UNRTF)


The 6th meeting of the United Nations Regional Task Force (UNRTF) on Injecting Drug Use and HIV/AIDS in Asia and the Pacific was held at the Pullman Hotel, Bangkok, Thailand from 2-3 July, 2009. Comprising a diverse range of stakeholders, including members selected or nominated from governments, the UN, donor partners, civil society and technical advisors, the goal of the UNRTF is to contribute to the reduction of HIV infection among and from injecting drug users in the Asia Pacific region. The UNRTF aims to significantly increase coverage of the ' comprehensive package' of HIV interventions through regional and country level advocacy, coordination, and use of strategic information for advocacy and policy dialogue.

In accordance with this goal, the purpose of the bi-annual meeting of UNRTF members is to provide a forum for the sharing of information on current and emerging challenges with regards to HIV/AIDS in the Asia Pacific region, and to facilitate the development of stakeholder strategies to combat these issues.

Key items on the agenda for the 6th meeting included:

• Regional resource needs and gaps for scaling up harm reduction interventions
• The findings of a legal and policy review in 6 countries
• Sexual transmission of HIV among and from people who inject drugs
• Standardisation and consensus building on the definition of "injecting drug user"
• Meaningful involvement of people who use drugs
• Compulsory drug treatment centres

Major Meeting Outcomes

Major outcomes and recommendations for future actions by the UNRTF included the need to advocate for and work towards the harmonisation of drug control and public health aspects of international and domestic drug policy. UNODC was asked to take the lead in sensitizing public security and law enforcement agencies at all levels to the issue of HIV and AIDS amongst people who inject drugs, and to their role in enabling the provision of a comprehensive package of HIV interventions.

It was also agreed that, in view of the HIV risks, the UNRTF will support engagement with the compulsory drug treatment centres for the provision of the comprehensive package for HIV prevention, treatment and care for drug users and injectors. However, the UNRTF does not recognise the compulsory drug treatment centres as evidence based approach and it is concerned over the increasing utilisation of this model despite lack of effectiveness, efficiency, or alignment with international standards and human rights.

Further outcomes included that:

• On the basis of findings from Pakistan that 15% of the wives of HIV positive drug users are already infected, it was agreed that there is a need to develop innovative strategies to protect the spouses of drug users, including via the use of existing reproductive heath services to reach this vulnerable population.

• While the study on "Regional resource needs and gaps for scaling up harm reduction interventions" was commended for its usefulness for regional advocacy, it was recognised that there is a need for further resource gaps and assessments at the country level, and for cost-benefit studies to highlight the return on investment in harm reduction service provision.

• There was an acknowledgment of the need for continued support of drug user networks to promote universal access to HIV prevention, treatment and care services.