India: Civil society organizations and law enforcement officials unite to deliver health services for drug users 

There is increased recognition that multi-stakeholder partnerships are essential to better HIV prevention, treatment and care services.  Close and committed cooperation between law enforcement agencies and civil society organizations is key in this context.   Law enforcement can play a vital role in protecting vulnerable communities such as drug users and in ensuring that people who use drugs have uncompromised access to essential social and health services. Civil society organizations also need to collaborate with law enforcement in order to optimize delivery of public health services.  

On 13 and 14 November 2013, UNODC conducted a two day workshop on "Enhancing Partnerships between Law Enforcement and Civil Society Organizations in the context of Drug Use and HIV" in Kolkata, India.  The workshop aimed at sensitising law enforcement officials about harm reduction services in the context of HIV and at building the capacity of civil society organizations to advocate for greater access to harm reduction services for drug users.   

To this end, UNODC brought together law enforcement officials and civil society organizations from across India.  The meeting was attended by law enforcement officials from the Narcotics Control Bureau, the  North Eastern Police Academy, Tihar Prison and police personnel from Aizwal, Agartala, Hyderabad, Kolkata, New Delhi and Raipur and  by Representatives from civil society organizations  including the South India Harm Reduction Network, Emmanuel Hospital Association, Manipur Network of Positive People, Sankalp Rehabilitation Trust, SPYM, Sharan (Indian Harm Reduction Network), Shalom and the  Asian Harm Reduction Network / Northeast Harm Reduction Network.

The two day workshop facilitated by Dr. Diane Riley, an experienced advocate and trainer on this issue, witnessed vibrant discussion and debate between law enforcement and civil society organizations.

A key conclusion from the workshop underscored the need for long term partnerships between civil society organizations and law enforcement officers especially at the grass root level. Both felt the need for more regular interaction, ideally on a monthly basis. Sensitization programmes and workshops must have greater outreach and be taken to the district level in order to ensure the understanding of the subject and required collaboration.   

Sensitization programmes also need to target beat constables and lower ranking police officers, who need to be exposed to hot spots of injecting drug users as well as to the required public health response, such as opioid substitution treatment and HIV testing for incarcerated drug users. The discussions also brought to light the need for specific services for drug using women and children.

All participants felt that the workshop had contributed to create a useful platform for both groups to come together and share concerns and ideas for enhancing future collaboration. 

The workshop was possible thanks to the contribution by UNAIDS.