The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) is one of the co-sponsoring agencies of the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/Aids (UNAIDS) and is the leader UN agency for the prevention of HIV among drug users and people living in prison settings. The Office is also responsible for offering a United Nations response to HIV and AIDS in the context of human trafficking vulnerability.

The UNODC's work focus in the HIV and AIDS area is to assist Member States in implementing comprehensive and large-scale prevention actions and in seeking to offer universal access assistance and treatment for people living with HIV/Aids. By incorporating this topic to its national, regional and global activities, UNODC supports the efforts by governments and civil society organizations in the development and implementation of programmes of prevention and attention specific to drug users and populations living in prisons and other freedom-restrictive settings, including those for adolescents in conflict with the law.

As a guardian to the United Nations Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners, UNODC supports the Member States in the implementation of international norms and United Nations resolutions which demand that all people in imprisonment have the right to receive integral health care, including prevention and treatment for HIV and AIDS, without any type of discrimination and in the same way that is offered to the community in general. UNODC also seeks to strengthen countries' capacity to offer an adequate response in HIV and AIDS prevention and assistance for people in a context of human trafficking vulnerability, especially to the most vulnerable groups: youngsters and women.

One of the most important lessons learned in two decades of work on HIV and AIDS is that prevention and attention interventions must be comprehensive, multi-sectoral and integrated, in order to cater to specific needs of different populations. Considering that, projects with pinpointed interventions end up having little impact.

Drug Use and HIV

People who use drugs have multiple vulnerabilities to HIV, tuberculosis, hepatitis and other infectious diseases.

More than 11 million people inject drugs

1.4 million are living with HIV

5.6 million are living with hepatitis C

1.2 million are living with both HIV and hepatitis C

The WHO/ UNODC/UNAIDS Technical Guide to reduce HIV infection among people who inject drugs (PWID) sets out nine interventions proven effective in reducing HIV transmission among this population. Universal access to the comprehensive package of nine interventions is a priority. Of these nine, the first four have been identified as the most effective in reducing the spread of HIV: when delivered at scale the four can contain and reverse the upward trend of HIV epidemics among PWID.

WHO has also recommended opioid overdose management with community distribution of naloxone for overdose prevention. Opioid overdose is both preventable and, if witnessed, treatable (Consolidated Guidelines on HIV Prevention, Diagnosis, Treatment and Care for Key Populations, WHO 2016).

A comprehensive package of interventions for the prevention, treatment and care of HIV among people who inject drugs

In most countries, coverage of HIV prevention services for people who inject drugs is too low to have an impact on the HIV epidemic.

  • Less than 1% of all PWID live in countries with high coverage of both needle and syringe programmes and opioid substitution therapy
  • Only 33 needles/syringes are provided per PWID per year – compared to the high coverage target of >200
  • Only 16% PWID are receiving OST –  compared to the high coverage target of >40%