Building Regional Capacities to Fight HIV/AIDS among People Who Inject Drugs

11th November 2014 - Casablanca, Morocco

A three-day Regional Conference on Opioid Substitution Therapy (OST) - Needle and Syringe Programme (NPS), jointly organized by UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) and Middle East North Africa Harm Reduction Association (MENAHRA) took place in Casablanca, Morocco 11-13 November 2014.

The main objectives of the Conference were to build regional capacities, advocate for OST and NSP as parts of comprehensive harm reduction package, and provide a forum for the national harm reduction task forces to showcase their own initiatives and achievements, discuss their challenges while networking across the region and exchanging expertise.  

The Conference brought together more than 40 participants from different countries of the Middle East and North Africa region, namely Egypt, Iran, Lebanon, Morocco, Pakistan, Palestine and Tunisia. Participants constituted a cross-section of stakeholders, including several government officials, civil society organizations (CSOs) UN agencies (UNODC, UNAIDS and WHO), and relevant international and regional organizations.

Masood Karimipour, UNODC Regional Representative for the Middle East and North Africa Outlined the need for and benefits of Opioid Substitution Therapy (OST), stating: "HIV in the region is still on the rise, driven by sharing injection equipment among people who inject drugs. Scaling up and sustaining national responses related to provision of comprehensive harm reduction services in the region to people who inject drugs is therefore critical. Opioid Substitution Therapy is the most effective treatment option to prevent HIV transmission for people who are opioid dependent. It reduces the frequency of injection and of injecting with used needles.  It decreases the high cost of opioid dependence to individuals, their families and society at large by reducing associated deaths, HIV risk behaviors and criminal activity."   He also stressed that people who inject drugs need access to health care that is focused on human rights and public health principles rather than purely on punishment. 

Prof. Dr. Abderrahmane Maaroufi, Director of Epidemiology and Disease Control Ministry of Health, Morocco, stated that no country is exempted from consequence of drug use, including Morocco, and there isa need for the comprehensive national response to HIV prevention, treatment and care services among people who inject drugs.

Dr. Kamal Alami, UNAIDS Country Director, Morocco, highlighted the challenges Middle East North Africa Region is going through in regards to HIV, including  increase in trends of new infection, low access and coverage to HIV Prevention, Treatment and Care services.

Elie Aaraj, Executive Director, MENAHRA also addressed the Conference and highlighted role of civil society organizations in Prevention, Treatment and Care of People Who Use Drugs in the region.

Research from Iran and other countries of the region where OST/NSP is being implemented indicates they have reduced unsafe injection practices, unsafe sexual practices, improved overall health status of drug users with HIV, and increased treatment adherence including opportunistic Infections and antiretroviral treatments. In addition, OST has reduced illicit drug use, rates of overdose, criminal behaviour and improved overall psycho-social well being of the clients.

The UNODC-MENAHRA Conference culminated with several recommendations for the countries of the region, such as: i) Establishing platforms for multi stakeholders' involvement and partnership in planning, implementing, monitoring and evaluation of OST and NSP; ii) Strengthening CSOs engagement in policy development, planning, implementation, monitoring and evaluation of OST and NSP; iii) Introducing and scaling up NSP and OST services for PWIDs based on human rights and public health principles with special measures to address gender and age barriers; iv) Developing & implementing  clear and country-specific advocacy plans for drug laws and policy reforms, inclusion of the interventions of the comprehensive package for HIV prevention, treatment and care among PWIDs, particularly OST, NSP in health services; v) Ensuring sustainable financing for OST, NSP and other interventions of the comprehensive package; vi) Ensuring effective linkages between and referral systems of PWIDs through close collaboration between service providers along the continuum of care both in the community and in prisons; and vii) Undertaking measures to reduce stigma and discrimination against PWIDs.

This Conference was aligned with UNODC Regional Programme for the Arab States (2011-2015), Sub Programme III (Drug Prevention and Health).