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Opinions: IDUs And HIV; AIDS 2010; International Violence Against Women Act

Governments Should Examine Drug Policies To Slow HIV Transmission Among IDUs

In a Los Angeles Times opinion piece, Evan Wood, associate professor of medicine at the University of British Columbia, writes about the Vienna Declaration, a document he helped to draft, that calls for international leaders to revise drug policies to incorporate greater scientific evidence and promote HIV prevention, treatment and care for drug users.

After contending that “the U.S.-led war on drugs has played a central role in driving the HIV epidemic around the world,” Wood writes of the support the declaration has received: “In just a few short weeks since being made public, the Vienna Declaration has been endorsed by more than 13,600 individuals, including five Nobel laureates and various other global leaders in science, medicine and public health. There also have been signs that the world may be heading toward more reasoned drug policies. Just before the Vienna conference, the Obama administration announced overdue and welcome steps to help fight the HIV epidemic among drug users. Most important, given the strong support for syringe exchange programs from the U.S. Institute of Medicine and WHO, the administration has reversed a longtime ban on funding clean syringe programs.”

“But there is still much that needs to be done,” Wood continues, “including that governments ‘undertake a transparent review of the effectiveness of current drug policies.’ Given the international public health emergency presented by HIV among drug users and the estimated $2.5 trillion in tax dollars wasted on the drug war over the last 40 years, the U.S. should move forward with this simple call,” Wood concludes (7/28).

Russia Runs Risk Of Exacerbating Country’s HIV/AIDS Epidemic

“The Russian authorities have come under strong, widespread criticism for their policies aimed at dealing with the IDU/HIV epidemic,” International Public Health Consultant Cesar Chelala writes in an opinion piece appearing in the Epoch Times that looks at the drug policies in a country that is home to some “2 million injecting drug users (IDUs), 60–70 percent of whom have HIV-related illnesses.”

Russia’s concentration on abstinence and criminalization as the main deterrent to drugs has “created obstacles to effective addiction treatment and HIV prevention,” Chelala writes. “It is estimated that 80 percent of those Russians who are HIV positive became infected by using contaminated needles and syringes. However, despite the proven efficacy of harm-reduction strategies in HIV prevention, the Russian authorities have failed to take advantage of them.”

“The close relationship between injecting drug use and HIV infection stresses the need for effective drug-addiction treatment strategies,” Chelala continues. “As stated by Human Rights Watch, ‘If Russia doesn’t take steps to address the problems of its drug dependence treatment system, it runs the risk of continued and increasing spread of HIV, and even drug resistant HIV strains, due to lack of access by drug users to antiretroviral treatment and their suboptimal adherence due to poor-quality drug dependence treatment programs,’” he concludes (7/28).

Indifference Is Preying On People Living With HIV/AIDS

Reflecting on AIDS 2010 in a Globe and Mail column, the newspaper’s Andre Picard writes of the decision of protesters gathered at the conference to march through the streets of Vienna, ending in Heldenplatz (Heroes’ Square). “The choice was deliberate and the symbolism powerful. Heldenplatz is where Adolf Hitler gave one of his more infamous speeches … The ornate Parliament, where the Nazi banner was once displayed, was adorned with a giant red ribbon, the symbol of solidarity with those who are HIV-positive,” Picard writes.

“The juxtaposition of old and new, of history and future challenges, on the Heldenplatz was thought-provoking,” Picard writes. “Bullets and bombs once claimed a generation, while today it is a microscopic virus. … Tyranny once came in human form – Adolf Hitler. Today it is more banal – a lack of humanity.”

“Rich Western countries like Canada have reacted with grand words but small gestures. These days the claim is that the economic crisis has left them unable to do more to stem the pandemic, but it is a matter of priorities,” Picard continues, concluding that “there have been 25 million victims of HIV/AIDS and there are 7,000 new infections daily. Far too many have been victims of a tyrant called indifference” (7/28).

Congress Should Make ‘Swift Passage’ Of The International Violence Against Women Act ‘A Priority’

“[A]nyone who cares about women has reason to be excited about the International Violence Against Women Act (Senate Bill 2982, House Bill 4594), which creates a comprehensive strategy to help combat gender-based violence abroad,” writes columnist Rekha Basu in the Des Moines Register. “It would provide aid to governments and community-based organizations to develop health programs, survivor services and legal protections as well as to promote changes in attitudes and access to economic and educational opportunities for women and girls. There would be training assistance for foreign military and police forces,” according to the column.

Basu offers key details of the bill, such as major Congressional sponsors, and notes, “The act would appropriate $10 million a year for five years to create an office for global women’s issues within the State Department and an office of global women’s development within the U.S. Agency for International Development. They would collaborate with other agencies to evaluate and monitor women’s empowerment programs and integrate gender into foreign aid policies.”

Basu concludes, “With Congress scheduled to recess soon, supporters are urging people to contact their representatives and press for a vote. The fact that sponsors range from the liberal [Sen. Barbara] Boxer [D-Calif.] to [Rep. Ted] Poe, a pro-life Republican [Texas], shows just how critical a need the act fills. Congress should make swift passage a priority” (7/28).