Harm Reduction International Statement, CND 2020

Date: 05 March 2020

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Thank you Chair for the opportunity to make this intervention on behalf of Harm Reduction International.

In the 2019 Ministerial Declaration, Member States noted with concern that the rate of transmission of HIV, HCV and other blood borne diseases associated with drug use remains high in many countries, and resolved to strengthen initiatives and measures aimed at minimising the adverse public health and social consequences of drug use, in other words harm reduction.

In addition, CND resolution 60/8 on promoting measures to prevent HIV and other blood-borne diseases urges Member States and other donors to continue to provide bilateral and other funding for the global HIV/AIDS response and to ensure that such funding contributes to addressing the growing HIV/AIDS epidemic among people who inject drugs, and prison settings, in the spirit of the pledge made in the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development to leave no one behind.

Despite these declarations, people who use drugs continue to be left behind, ultimately exacerbating a health, financial and human rights crisis.

People who inject drugs account for an estimated 12% of global infections, including 41% of new HIV infections in Eastern Europe and Central Asia and 37% of new infections in the Middle East and North Africa. Harm reduction interventions for people who use drugs — such as needle and syringe programmes and opioid substitution therapy — are proven to be cost-effective, protect against HIV and hepatitis C, save lives and contribute to healthier communities. Yet, the global provision of harm reduction interventions is critically low, with only one percent of people who inject drugs living in countries with high coverage.

Moreover, Harm Reduction International research shows that in 2016, harm reduction funding in low- and middle-income countries was a mere 13 percent of the US$1.5 billion that UNAIDS estimates is required to prevent HIV among people who use drugs.

The situation is particularly dire in prisons: opioid substitution therapy is available in some prisons in only 58 countries around the world, while 10 countries implement needle and syringe programs in at least one prison.

What we are witnessing is a political and funding crisis for harm reduction. This crisis is not due to a lack of evidence, or a lack of money to invest in these life-saving interventions. It is due to criminalisation, stigma and discrimination.

We welcome the acknowledgment that responses not in conformity with international human rights laws and standards represent a challenge to the implementation of joint commitments. As several Delegations have stressed in the past days, this requires the abolition of the death penalty for drug offences.

Despite multiple calls by the UN Secretary General, the Human Rights Council, the High Commissioner for Human Rights, UNODC, and INCB, thirty-five countries retain this extreme and ineffective punishment in their legislation. After three years of steady and significant decrease, executions for drug offences increased 31% between 2018 and 2019, signalling a worrying reversal of trend. In the meantime, over 3000 people remain on death row for drug offences, many convicted after trials that do not meet the minimum guarantees of justice. Harm Reduction International urges all Member States as well as the Commission on Narcotics Drugs to condemn this practice; and to require full transparency on the part of retentionist countries. Transparency that is too often non-existent.

© 2020 Harm Reduction International.

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