Aarti Dhar

Significant improvements in coverage of harm reduction interventions

“Government’s approach to drugs is based on law-enforcement and prosecution”

NEW DELHI: Injecting drug users (IDUs) and men who have sex with men (MSM) require particular attention in the fight against HIV/AIDS and HIV continues to be a major public health problem in the South East Asia Region, with the highest incidence among sex workers and their clients, MSMs and IDUs ,” according to World Health Organisation South East Asia Regional office director Samlee Plianbangchang.

In a message on World AIDS Day here, Mr. Plianbangchang said India, Thailand, Myanmar, Indonesia and Nepal accounted for the majority of the regional burden.

Though significant improvements in the coverage of harm reduction interventions were seen in the region, the coverage that comprised needle syringe programmes of opiod substitution therapy remained between 20 to 25 per cent. The WHO had asked the member-states to urgently scale up these interventions.

National programmes were needed to pay significant attention to MSMs, as this group engaged in a wide range of sexual behaviour. But to design effective interventions for this group, a better understanding of different MSM sub-groups, including their behaviours and beliefs, was fundamental, the statement said.

This could be done through targeted MSM programmes with tailored 100 per cent condom use and other prevention programmes. Interventions, wherever, they have been appropriate and targeted, had demonstrated favourable results. Hence, the health sector and governments, in particular, needed to take appropriate action if the Millennium development Goals of halting and reversing the spread of the disease had to be achieved by 2015, the WHO said.

World Vision, a non-profit organisation, has said the government’s approach to drugs was based around law-enforcement and prosecution, with very little done in terms of treating drug users or helping them to stop using drugs. It advocated adoption of harm reduction method – a way of HIV prevention that had been successful in other countries that acknowledged that drug use occurred and sought ways to reduce HIV transmission.

Major approaches to harm reduction were “needle exchange programmes” and oral substitution of drugs. But under the Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances Act, there was severe punishment for possession of drugs and related material making the provision of services to users problematic, World Vision said in a statement issued here on Monday.