The impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on health services for people who use drugs who are living with or are vulnerable to HIV. Multi-stakeholder consultation bringing together the perspectives of science and the communities

7-8 April 2021 – Vienna: Over 15 participants representing the community of people who use drugs and the academia with an expertise in public health, human rights, prisons and closed settings attended a two-day multi-stakeholder consultation.
Virtual consultation “The impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on health services for people who use drugs who are living with or are vulnerable to HIV” was organized on the occasion of the 64th session of the Commission on Narcotic Drugs by the UNODC HIV/AIDS Section in close collaboration with the International AIDS
Society (IAS), World Health Organization (WHO), the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS) and the International Network of People Who Use Drugs (INPUD).
On behalf of all co-organizers of this meetings, Ms Fariba Soltani, the Chief of HIV/AIDS Section and Global Coordinator for HIV/AIDS, underlined in her opening remarks that with a help of this meeting the organizers are aiming to put together the key lessons learned from the intersecting HIV and the COVID-19 pandemics and support member states in identifying strategic actions to be implemented at a global, regional and country level. 
During these two days participants had a chance to express their perspectives on the most urgent and crucial issues regarding the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the delivery of HIV prevention, treatment, care and support services for people who use drugs including those who live in prisons. Presentations included country examples from Georgia, Nepal, South Africa, Thailand, Ukraine and Viet Nam and the perspectives on the impact of COVID-19 on harm reduction services, situation of women who use drugs, prisons and closed settings, and human rights. Agenda of the meeting and links to the presentations can be found here!  
The current COVID-19 pandemic constitutes a global health emergency and poses serious health risks for various population groups. People who use drugs can be particularly vulnerable to COVID-19 due to underlying health issues, stigma, social marginalization and increased economic and social vulnerabilities, including a lack of access to housing and health services.

Ensuring continued access to health services amidst the COVID-19 pandemic is crucial in order to curb its spread and mitigate overall negative health outcomes for vulnerable populations, such as people who use drugs including those who live in prisons or experience homelessness. In many countries, lockdowns have hindered access to harm reduction including needle and syringe programmes (NSP) and opioid substitution therapy (OST) and the economic impact of the pandemic has further escalated social drivers of HIV and hepatitis C (HCV) infection. In the era of COVID-19, public health interventions must – even more than before – ensure that people who use drugs have access to harm reduction, NSP and other care and support services that respond to their complex health needs.

The deliberations of this multi-stakeholder consultation’s group of experts resulted in a statement delivered on April,14 at the plenary of the 64th session of the Commission on Narcotic Drugs by the President of the International AIDS Society, Professor of Infectious Diseases, Ms. Adeeba Kamarulzaman, Faculty of Medicine, University of Malaya.

To access a video with the statement delivered by Professor Kamarulzaman, please click here!