13-17 March 2023 – Vienna – the 66th Session of the United Nations Commission on Narcotic Drugs took place in Vienna, between 13-17 March 2023. Several events were held throughout the entire week on the margins of the session and organized by diverse stakeholders in person, online, and in hybrid format.
The UNODC HIV/AIDS Section actively participated in many of these events, whether as organizer, cosponsor or invited as a speaker.
On the 13th of March, the HIV/AIDS Section organized a side event “People-Centred, Public Health And Human Rights-Based HIV Response For And With People Who Use Drugs” with the support of International AIDS Society, the World Health Organization, UNAIDS, the International Network of People who Use Drugs (INPUD), Belgium, Brazil, Czechia, Mexico, the Netherlands, Norway, South Africa, Spain and Sweden.
This event focused on placing human rights and public health at the center of the response to HIV among people who use drugs (PWUD).
The event was opened by Christine Stegling, Deputy Executive Director, Policy, Advocacy and Knowledge of UNAIDS,and Justice Tettey, Chief, Drugs, Laboratory and Scientific Services Branch, UNODC.
The presentations came at the larger theme from different angles, with Prof. Louisa Degenhardt from the University of New South Wales focusing on the “Global epidemiology of injecting drug use, HIV, HCV and harm reduction coverage”; Judy Chang, Executive Director of INPUD, highlighting the Emerging Trends Impacting Harm Reduction; Claudia Stoicescu, Assistant Professor at Monash University, Indonesia sharing a presentation on “Compulsory drug treatment and rehabilitation in East and Southeast Asia”; Prof. Menan Abd Elmaksoud, representing the Ministry of Health and Population of Egypt focused on the Egyptian response to HIV among PWUD; and finally Alethse de la Torres Rosas, Director General, National Centre for the Prevention and Control of HIV/AIDS of the Mexican Ministry of Health, whopresented examples of working with andfor the health and rights of people who use drugs in Mexico. The event had over 50 participants in-person and online.
On the 16th of March, the UNODC Regional Office for Southern Africa (ROSAF) organized a side event on “Promoting Evidence-Based HIV Prevention Interventions Among People Who Use Drugs And People In Prisons OnThe Southern Africa Region”. Fariba Soltani, UNODC HIV/AIDS Section Chief, presented the introductory remarks; NyamekaMayathula-Khoza, Chairperson of the Central Drug Authority of South Africa, presented an overview of success and challenges in the implementation ofharm reduction in the country; Shaun Shelly Chair of the People Who Use Drugs Technical Working Group at the South African National AIDS Council (SANAC)focused also on harm reduction in Southern Africa, with an emphasis of the developments and updates of the region; Wilson Box delivered a presentation on “Perspectives and needs of people who use drugs, harm reduction, OST and share findings from Zimbabwe Drug use assessment",while Francisco Mbofana shared the Mozambique experience on harm reduction.Busisiwe Msimanga-Radebe, WHO HIV/AIDS Technical Advisor, closed the session. There were 50 people in attendance during the event.
On the 17th of March, HIV/AIDS Section took part in the side event “Health And HIV In Prisons - Effective Strategies To Address Urgent Needs”. This event was organized by Penal Reform International with the support of Belgium, Brazil, Czechia, Mexico, Sweden, the International Drug Policy Consortium and UNODC HIV/AIDS Section. his side event brought together state, UN and civil society partners to explore strategies for improved health and harm reduction services for people in prison.
Prison populations globally present complex healthcare needs including an increased likelihood of infection with HIV/AIDS, TB and viral hepatitis. People in prison are six times more likely to be living with HIV than the general population while the disproportionate burden of HIV and hepatitis C in prisons remains linked to insufficient access to comprehensive harm reduction services in prisons, among other factors.
Moderator Ehab Salah, Advisor for Prisons and HIV, UNODC, introduced the recently established Informal CSO Group on Health in Prison, currently made up of 39 grassroots civil society organisations in all regions working to improve health in prisons. Fariba Soltani, Chief of UNODC’s HIV/AIDS Section, closed the event with a call to continued partnership in promoting equal access to comprehensive HIV services for people in prison.
On the 16th of March, UNODC HIV/AIDS Section supported the event “Implementation of Opioid Substitution Therapy in Belarus”, organized by Belarus and supported by Kazakhstan and Tajikistan. Andrei Dapkiunas, Permanent Representative of Belarus to the International Organisations in Vienna and Fariba Soltani, Chief, HIV/AIDS Section, Global HIV Coordinator, UNODC delivered opening remarks. Speakers included Sergey Osipchik from the Belarusian Psychiatric Association; Aleksei Alexandrov from the Board of the Belarusian Psychiatric Association; Habibullo Vohidzoda from the Drug Control Agency under the President of Tajikistan and Nadezhda Cherchenko from the Ministry of Heath of Kazakhstan, as well as a community speaker and client in the Belarussian OAT programme.
On the 17th of March, International Network of People Who Use Drugs organized the side event “Pandemic Prevention, Preparedness and Response (PPPR): What it Means for People who Use Drugs”. The event featured a presentation from Fariba Soltani, Chief, HIV/AIDS Section, UNODC. The event focused on the launch of INPUD’s most recent report, on “Pandemic Preparedness and Response – Voice of People Who Use Drugs”, and presented community-led research on the impact of COVID-19 on people who use drugs, as well as lessons that could be learned from that experience in preparing for and responding to future pandemics. The event also touched on the ramifications of the "Pandemic Treaty" and the broader global health governance agenda. Other members of the panel included Commissioner Michel Kazatchkine, of the Global Commission on Drug Policy; Angela McBride, Executive Director of South African Network of PWUD (SANPUD) and Anton Basenko, Programme Manager of Quality of Life, EATG. Opening remarks were delivered by Annie Madden, Project Lead, INPUD, with concluding remarks provided by Judy Chang, Executive Director of INPUD.