Is HIV really about culture and migration and labour? You’d think so if you looked at the mandates of the 10 United Nations organisations that make up UNAIDS. I’ve always thought we only need two organisations involved: UNSEX and UNDRUGS. The first doesn’t exist, and the second (officially know and the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime) has always done more for cops than for junkies.
That may be changing. One thing UNODC is really good at is tracking drug production, supply and street prices, so I always keep my eye out for its fascinating annual report. The World Drug Report 2008 does not disappoint. Opium production in Afghanistan almost doubled in 2007. And in Colombia, where the US has funded a massive attack on coca production, output is up by 27 percent. Ho hum. But for me, the really fascinating thing was the spin that the head of UNODC, Antonio Maria Costa, put on the report. This from the press release that accompanied the report:
Pointing out that resources for public security far outweigh those devoted to public health, Mr. Costa called for a stronger focus on health – the first principle of drug control. “Drug dependence is an illness that should be prevented and treated like any other,” he said.
This may sound like common sense, and it is. But it comes from a man who has in the past instructed his staff to remove from agency reports all mention of “harm reduction” (aka “public health”) approaches to addiction and drug use. It’s a tribute to a small number of people who have been working inside UNODC to try to put drug users’ health more firmly on the agenda. Chapeaux to Christian Kroll, Karl Dehne, Gray Sattler and others.
Opposition to harm reduction comes in large part from the US government. But not, it seems, from thoughtful citizens. I note that a grand jury in California has recommended that local government fund a needle exchange programme as a way of reducing HIV and Hep C. With enough of these small steps, we may walk towards the goal of keeping drug users alive until they get clean.