UNODC promotes evidence-based responses to get to zero HIV among people who inject drugs

Bangkok (Thailand), 29 November 2013
- An estimated 350,000 people were newly infected with HIV in Asia in 2012, a slight decline from 370,000 infections in 2011, according to UNAIDS.

However, injection drug use continues to be a driving factor behind the HIV epidemic in several countries in Southeast Asia and HIV prevalence among people who inject drugs remains high in countries such as Indonesia, Thailand and the Philippines.

An integrated, evidence-based and collaborative response is required if countries are to meet the goal of "Getting to zero new HIV infections among people who inject drugs" by 2015, as agreed at the United Nations General Assembly High Level Meeting on HIV in New York in June 2011, UNODC HIV experts say.

"There are clear evidence-based responses that can be implemented to tackle HIV transmission among people who inject drugs, including the implementation of a comprehensive package of services, and there is an urgent need to expand access to these life saving services," said Dr. Anne Bergenstrom, Regional HIV/AIDS Advisor recently at the 11th International Congress on AIDS in Asia and the Pacific (ICAAP11): "Asia Pacific Reaching Triple Zero: Investing in Innovation".

UNODC's recently launched Regional Programme for Southeast Asia focuses on assisting Member States to provide increased access to HIV prevention, treatment and care services to people who inject drugs and to prisoners.

An important element of the new UNODC Programme is working with Member States, the ASEAN Task Force on AIDS (ATFOA) and Mekong MOU Member States to support the review and amending of laws, policies and practices that hamper the scaling up of HIV services. In addition, UNODC collects, analyzes and disseminates strategic information on injecting drug use and HIV; and develops and implements training tools and operational guidelines for law enforcement officials to effectively support national HIV responses.

As a part of this new strategy, UNODC organized two satellite sessions during ICAAP11. Held 18-22 November in Bangkok, the Congress was hosted by the Government of Thailand and brought together over 3,000 delegates from the region and beyond.

The first, a joint UNAIDS-UNODC session, Expanding access to harm reduction services in Asia - closing the gap by 2015, 21 November 2013, was chaired by Mr. Pradeep Kakkatil, Deputy Regional Director, UNAIDS Regional Support Team and Dr. Monica Beg, Chief, HIV/AIDS Section of UNODC.

"While many countries are making efforts to expanding access to recommended HIV interventions, we must address the lack of enabling legal and policy environments, and repressive law enforcement practices.," said Dr. Beg. "Member States need to increase domestic funding for harm reduction and ensure engagement of civil society in the response." Dr. Beg's views echo UNODC's strategy in the region to support countries to review and update policies and practices, and develop and implement operational guidelines.

The second session, a UNODC side event, Effective HIV Approaches: Promoting and protecting health and human rights in prisons, urged continued focus on the protection of health and related rights of prisoners.

"This is critical to ensuring the principal of equivalence of care, so that prisoners receive the same level of healthcare as they would were they not in prison," said Dr. Beg.

In line with its new Regional Programme, UNODC will continue to focus on assisting and collaborating with member states to provide increased access to HIV prevention, treatment and care services among people who use drugs and prisoners.

Click here to access the UNAIDS Global Report 2013.