Sarah Boseley

It opposes needle exchanges and injection rooms for narcotic drug users.

A UNITED Nations agency has been accused of hampering the fight against HIV/AIDS by opposing measures that would reduce the soaring number of infections among injecting drug users.

The International Narcotics Control Board (INCB) takes an implacable stance against "harm reduction" measures such as needle exchanges and injection rooms on the basis that its role is to stop and not condone illegal drug use. But a report from the Open Society Institute and the Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network says it has become "an obstacle to effective programmes to prevent and treat HIV and chemical dependence."

U.N. special envoy for HIV/AIDS to Africa Stephen Lewis on Tuesday revealed that he had been accused by the INCB of "advocating opium dens" after he praised the success of a safe injection centre in Vancouver for reducing HIV transmission. "I was completely taken aback," he said. "They effectively threatened to silence me by saying if I didn't recant they would write to the Secretary General of the U.N. They said it was completely impossible for someone from the U.N. like me to advocate for safe injection centres.

"It seems to be the only agent of the U.N. system which is under no scrutiny whatsoever. It is this shadowy group financed by the U.N. and accountable to no one."

INCB secretary Koli Kouame admitted he had phoned Mr. Lewis and compared injection rooms to the opium dens in China of the past. "Mr. Lewis made a public statement in support of something which is in breach of the convention, which is an injection room," he said.

"We should see these people get the treatment they deserve," he said. Providing injection rooms was like saying ``you can do whatever you want. You can kill yourself because you are worth nothing."

The INCB annual report reiterates that injection rooms are unacceptable because they sanction illegal drug use.

Guardian Newspapers Limited 2007