Partnering with law enforcement to deliver good public health: the experience of the HIV/AIDS Asia regional program
1 Technical Support Unit, HIV/AIDS Asia Regional Program, Bangkok, Thailand
2 UNAIDS Regional Support Team, Johannesburg, South Africa
Harm Reduction Journal 2012, 9:24 doi:10.1186/1477-7517-9-24Published: 9 July 2012
In the South-East Asia region, the drug control and supply reduction agenda is of high political importance. A multitude of law enforcement agencies are engaged in this work. Nationwide campaigns such as the “Strike- Hard” campaign in China or the “war on drugs” in Thailand dominate the landscape. Viet Nam’s response to drug use has historically focused on deterrence through punishment and supply-side measures. This policy environment is further complicated by lack of evidence-based drug dependence treatment in several settings. The public health consequences of this approach have been extremely serious, with some of the highest documented prevalence of preventable blood-borne viral infections, including HIV, and hepatitis B and C. The wider socioeconomic consequences of this have been borne by families, communities and the governments themselves.
The HIV/AIDS Asia Regional Program (HAARP) aims to stop the spread of HIV associated with drug use in South-East Asia and parts of southern China. HAARP works across five countries (Cambodia, China Burma, Laos, Viet Nam) chiefly through the Ministries of Health and Social Affairs, National Drug Control Agencies, and Public Security sectors, including prisons. HAARP has also engaged with UN agencies and a wide range of civil society organisations, including organisations of people who use drugs, to ensure their meaningful involvement in matters that directly affect them. We describe the experience of HAARP in implementing a large-scale harm reduction programme in the Sub-Mekong Region. HAARP chose to direct its efforts in three main areas: supporting an enabling environment for effective harm reduction policies, building core capacity among national health and law enforcement agencies, and supporting “universal access” goals by making effective, high-coverage services available to injecting drug users and their partners.
The activities supported by HAARP are humble yet important steps. However, a much higher political-level dialogue is needed. The current huge gap of human rights standards in drug control practices also needs to be bridged immediately. Public health that embraces a rights-based approach must be given its fair share of policy space, budget and influence.