Urgent Reform Needed

Draconian Drugs Laws Leading Cause Of Hiv/Aids Outside Africa
Wednesday, August 4, 2010

vienna-declarationExperts and policymakers have gathered in Vienna for the 18th International AIDS Conference to evaluate current trends in HIV/AIDS treatment and prevention. Despite the widespread attention given to the subject, countries around the world continue to maintain draconian drug laws that are increasing the spread of the disease. Several leading AIDS, human rights and drug policy reform organisations and leading scientists are calling for urgent action to change current drug laws and incorporate evidence-based approaches to drug and HIV/AIDS treatment and prevention to reverse this trend.

According to the latest statistics, injection drug use accounts for approximately one in three new cases of HIV outside of Africa. In some regions where HIV is spreading rapidly, such as Eastern Europe and Central Asia, HIV prevalence can be as high as 70% to 80% among people who inject drugs. In most, if not all of these countries, evidence-based prevention measures, such as needle exchange programmes and opioid substitution treatments, are banned, thus swelling the ranks of new infections.      

quote-vdThe International AIDS Society, the British Columbia Centre for Excellence in HIV/AIDS, AIDS 2010, and the International Centre for Science in Drug Policy are leading an effort to change these laws and are calling for the incorporation of evidence-based measure to simultaneously treat and prevent drug use and the spread of HIV/AIDS. To achieve this, these organisations have outlined their arguments and call to action in what they call “The Vienna Declaration”. The Declaration is being supported by organisations and individuals from around the world including:

•    Former President of Brazil Fernando Henrique Cardoso
•    Former President of Mexico Ernesto Zedillo
•    Former President of Colombia César Gaviria
•    Nobel laureate Prof. Françoise Barré-Sinoussi who discovered the HIV virus
•    Executive Director of the Global Fund Dr. Michel Kazatchkine

Even in countries that offer drug treatment services, aggressive law enforcement practices drive drug users away from these services and into environments where the risk of HIV transmission is high. Thus, in order for these public health services to be effective, law enforcement practices need to be tempered and facilitate good faith among users that they will not be prosecuted while seeking treatment.

Furthermore, more pressure needs to be placed on countries to stop drug treatment programmes that violate human rights in a veiled attempt to promote themselves as endorsing hard reduction measures. In some countries around the world, drug users are forced into programmes that include torture, forced labour and degrading treatment.  

This should not be considered a “drug” issue but a public health issue. Please join us and thousands of others in signing the Vienna Declaration and sending a strong signal to our political leaders that the status quo must change.