UNODC Advocates for a Favorable AIDS Legislation

This year UNODC has made an important step towards helping governments improve access to HIV related health services for drugs users and prison inmates.

Held in Almaty, Kazakhstan, on the 19 th of January, the regional consultative meeting 'Accessibility of HIV prevention and treatment for vulnerable populations in Central Asia and Azerbaijan: Results of the legislative and policy analysis' allowed the discussion of a 2010 report analyzing national legislation of Central Asian nations.

The report resulted from the assessment of national legislation of Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan as they relate to HIV treatment and prevention, and was produced by national experts from each country with technical assistance from the Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal network under the auspices of UNODC ROCA. Its purpose was to identify legal barriers that might hinder each country's efforts to achieve universal access to HIV prevention, treatment and care, and ultimately contained dozens of recommendations for legislative and policy reform.

The consultative meeting's goal was to discuss the legislative and policy report's major findings and resulting recommendations. These recommendations were intended to encourage governments to reform their policies and legislation, in turn ensuring the provision of necessary health services to disenfranchised or disadvantaged populations (including drug users and prison inmates).

During the meeting, the team of international experts presented a range of currently-employed legislative and policy approaches which influence the effectiveness of HIV prevention among these populations. Methods of overcoming structural and social barriers in order to achieve truly universal access to health care and social protection were also discussed. Two major priorities were highlighted as a result of the discussion.

The first priority related to mitigating the harshness and scope of punitive laws regarding drug possession for personal use, with the suggestion that countries should initiate reforms in order to decriminalize drug users. It was suggested that this should be achieved by revisiting the current restrictive approaches to defining the quantities of drugs for which possession does not attract criminal or administrative liability, while amending laws so that the possession of quantities without intent to sell cannot be penalized by law. There is also a need to reduce the application of custodial sentences for non-violent drug-related crime. This will require the establishment or strengthening of a system of alternatives to incarceration, while developing and implementing a referral system designed to send drug-dependent offenders to treatment facilities in the community.

The second priority relates to the need to improve access to effective drug dependence treatment. It was decided that countries must scale up Opiate Substitution Treatment (OST) as an effective, evidence-based treatment approach for opioid dependence in both the community and prisons. It was suggested that treatment delivery methods should also be widened and diversified.

It was agreed during the consultative meeting that the UNODC and the Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network should continue providing technical support to countries with concern to the amendment of legislative and policy frameworks of the above areas and others identified in the comprehensive project report.