Thursday, 18 April 2013 (Vilnius, London, New York) – The Elton John AIDS Foundation (EJAF) today announced its official support for the 23rd International Harm Reduction Conference taking place in Vilnius, Lithuania, June 9-12, 2013. EJAF will also be the official sponsor of the International Drugs and Harm Reduction Film Festival 2013, which will be open to the general public and will take place at the Forum Cinemas Vingis in Vilnius as well as onsite at the conference venue for delegates.
The 23rd International Harm Reduction Conference is expected to attract up to 800 scientists, politicians, researchers, health workers, doctors, and harm reduction activists from around 70 countries. The three conferences took place in Beirut, Lebanon (2011); Liverpool, UK (2010); and Bangkok, Thailand (2009).
The conference has also confirmed the attendance of the former President of Poland Aleksander Kwaśniewski, the former President of Switzerland Ruth Dreifuss, the UN Secretary General´s Special Envoy for HIV/AIDS in Eastern Europe and Central Asia Michael Kazatchkine, Lithuanian Minister of Health Vytenis Povilas Andriukaitis, and the Executive Director of the Global Fund To Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria Mark Dybul. Sir Richard Branson will deliver a video address at one of the plenary sessions.
“The Elton John AIDS Foundation is honoured to support the International Harm Reduction Conference in order to shine a bright light on an important issue that is so often ignored by policy makers and the press," said EJAF Chairman David Furnish. "Syringe access and other harm reduction approaches have been proven time and again to save lives, but the stigma surrounding drug use and AIDS has prevented some policy makers from taking action. Through this conference, we can raise our collective voice, and raise awareness, about this urgent issue.”
EJAF is one of the largest funders of syringe access programmes in the United States, supports a range of programmes that mitigate the HIV-related impact of drug use in Eastern Europe, and is a leading worldwide advocate for harm reduction.
The conference will also host the International Drugs and Harm Reduction Film Festival 2013, which will open for the general public at the Forum cinema complex with the Lithuanian red carpet premier of the Brad Pitt-produced film The House I Live In on Thursday, June 6.
“We’re delighted to be bringing such a high profile and internationally prestigious film as The House I Live In to the Lithuanian public this year,” said Rick Lines, Executive Director of Harm Reduction International (HRI), convenors of the conference. “There is a growing momentum of thinking globally that the so-called War Against Drugs has failed and that new approaches to drug use that include a decriminalized public health approach to the issue are the way forward, something that is high on the agenda of this conference.”
The theme of the 2013 Conference is “The Value/s of Harm Reduction.” The theme emphasizes the urgent need to provide sufficient political and financial support to address the HIV epidemic driven by injection drug use in many parts of the world, as well as the ethical basis of the harm reduction philosophy.
The conference will focus on key issues affecting the international harm reduction response, including the lack of donor support, the need for national government funding for harm reduction, as well as the influence of repressive law enforcement and human rights abuses in the countries of Eurasia.
The Eurasian region, comprising Central and Eastern Europe and Central Asia, is home to over 3.7 million people who inject drugs, representing almost one-quarter of injection drug users worldwide. Injection drug use is driving HIV epidemics in most countries in Eurasia, where an estimated one million people who inject are living with HIV. In addition to HIV, people who inject drugs in the region experience an extremely high prevalence of hepatitis C, as well as high risk of overdose, which is the leading cause of death among opiate users in many countries of Eastern Europe and Central Asia.
“At such a critical time in the HIV/AIDS epidemic in the Eurasian region, it is timely that we are hosting the IHRC 2013 here in Lithuania,” said Serge Votyagov, Executive Director of the Eurasian Harm Reduction Network (EHRN), the local partners of the conference.
Renowned Lithuanian pop group The Ball and Chain has also agreed to become patrons of the conference, confirming their long term commitment to HIV/AIDS over the years.
“The issue of drug use is something we need to speak about more openly in Lithuania,” said Jurgis Didziulis, Ball and Chain´s co-founder. “Drug users are often treated as second rate citizens and ignored. There is a need to engage with them and see the issues confronting them as a public health concern rather than taking a criminalising approach.”