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Drugs-AIDS link threatening South East Asian security and credibility

“… Laws which put the community at risk of infection should be rechecked,” said UNODC East-Asia and Pacific representative, urgeing a review of country policies and laws against drug abuse and to adopt plans for curbing the spread of HIV among injecting drug users.”

The link between illegal drug use and AIDS is becoming a serious concern of the governments in the region since it is devastating and affecting the social fabric of the community and Asian values,” said Sandro Calvani at a meeting in Yangon in August that gathered representatives from eight regional countries and UN agencies to formulate a strategic plan to reduce HIV infection among IDUs.

“It is also damaging the credibility of the States because drug trafficking causes a lot of corruption and contempt for the law in areas where drugs are produced and trafficked,” said the UNODC representative of the East Asia and the Pacific Region, citing the golden triangle and the borders of the Mekong sub-region.

Citing that seven million people in the region were infected with HIV, the trend was starting to accelerate to what had happened in Africa more than ten years ago. He also noted that the population in this region is much larger than the African continent, with China, India and Indonesia having the world’s largest populations.

“We have to consider whether people are infected because they are not informed enough,” he said.

Mr Calvani said that urgent intervention is necessary to tackle the issue since the trend of HIV infection caused by injecting drug use was increasing dramatically in some countries. In Indonesia, the prevalence of HIV infection caused by injecting drug use has dramatically increased from about 2.5 per cent in 1997 to 80 per cent in 2003. Vietnam also has a sharp increase of 85 per cent this year, compared to 9.4 per cent in 1996.

He also urged the countries to review their policies and laws against drug abuse and to adopt plans for curbing the spread of HIV among injecting drug users. “We have to be very careful and pragmatic in our policy in order to apply proper responses to the challenge that we have. It is important that the response to drug issues should not pose another threat to the community,” he said. “Normally the laws are designed to protect the community. Laws which put the community at risk of infection should be rechecked.

“If we don’t adopt the harm reduction activities for injecting drug users we bring the epidemic of HIV-AIDS to a larger community. There are some countries like Myanmar and China that are doing serious policy review and pilot initiative. Other countries with a serious drug abuse problem should also take the policy change,” Mr Calvani said. He also urged the countries to allocate more resources to detention centres where there is a high risk of infectious diseases through homosexuality and injecting drug use.

“Prisons in many countries become an epidemiological pump which should no longer be allowed to continue. There should be much more protection of human rights and the health of prisoners,” he said. Mr Calvani said officers needed to be trained to avoid stigma and discrimination towards drug users and infected people. Dr Agostino Borra, resident representative of the World Health Organisation, said in his opening address that confirmed and serious HIV epidemics among injecting drug users were reported in the region. “We know that the HIV epidemic can spread from injecting drug users to their spouses and subsequently to their children.”

Myanmar plans to conduct the activities on harm reduction among injecting drug users in Myitkyina, Muse, Lashio, Tachilek, Taunggyi and South Dagon in Yangon under the sponsorship of the Australian Aid Agency. – Myanmar Times.

AHRN Newsletter, Issue No.32-33, 30 Aug 2003

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