The World AIDS Day is an opportunity to remember all those who lost their battle with HIV, and those who continue to fight to eliminate the disease. However, daily (2015) worldwide, 5753 people are infected by the virus. Many of them belong to the so-called “vulnerable” groups and one of them are injected drug users, mainly of opioids. In Greece, the rate of new infections due to transmission through shared syringes are in average 37% for the years 2011 to 2014 (source: KEELPNO).
The only way to reduce these numbers, that is, more people to protect themselves from a possible infection with the HIV virus, is to increase harm reduction measures through a national strategy and a national action plan. These could be two tools for proper coordination, to avoid overlapping activities in the field and better distribution and management of human and financial resources, that exist in almost all EU countries. Apart from Greece. And this is a gap, which on the occasion of the World Day for AIDS, we as civil society, need to bring to the fore, if we really care to protect vulnerable populations from the HIV virus.
For the importance of increasing harm reduction actions, we indicatively mention the recent announcement by UNAIDS (October 2016):
“With the aim of “ending AIDS by 2030”, the UN agency for AIDS stresses the need for investment in Harm Reduction programs in order to ensure that people who use intravenous drugs have universal equal access to them. It calls for policies that respect human rights and the needs of injecting drug users (IDUs) and promote prevention, treatment, care and other support services associated with HIV. Similar are the recommendations from the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) and the World Health Organization (WHO), that also suggested the implementation of similar programs and services as a comprehensive package for vulnerable populations.
Scientific research clearly shows that Harm Reduction works, unlike laws and policies that undermine the access of people who use psychoactive substances to health services. The United Nations stress that the non-availability of harm reduction services coupled with insufficient coverage, where available, jeopardizing effective HIV management. They recognize that the current investment in harm reduction services are insufficient, in order to end the AIDS epidemic by 2030, and contrary to the commitments made in the 2016 Political Declaration to end AIDS and call for ever increasing initiatives in the field the Harm Reduction for people who use psychoactive substances.”
We can drastically reduce new HIV infections in Greece, by increasing as State and as civil society, the harm reduction actions, supporting a significant vulnerable population group, that of injected drug users. We should not leave anyone behind, in this joint, global effort!