Over twenty-five drug users from nine different countries met in Bangkok on 16th and 17th October 2009 to finalize the Asian Network of People who Use Drugs (ANPUD) Constitution and elect a Steering Committee for the first regional network of people who use drugs. Based on the principles of Meaningful Involvement of People who Use Drugs (MIPUD), ANPUD has been setup by people who use drugs to advocate for the rights and unify the voices of their communities across Asia. ANPUD has over 150 members throughout the Asia region who are collaborating to influence decisions that affect their lives.

Despite being the region with the largest number of people using drugs in the world, access to effective services such as needle and syringe exchange programs and opioid substitution therapy to prevent HIV and hepatitis C transmission, the Asia region has the lowest coverage of harm reduction services across the globe. The lack of affordable HIV and HCV prevention, treatment, care and support services is largely driven by the stigma and discrimination associated with drug use.

Jimmy Dorabjee, a key guiding figure in ANPUD’s development, explained the raison d’etre for ANPUD: “People who use drugs are stigmatized, criminalized and abused in every country in Asia. Our human rights are violated and we have little in the way of health services to stay alive. If governments do not see people who use drugs, hear us and talk to us, they will continue to ignore us.”

By forming ANPUD, people who use drugs in Asia will be able to work together to engage organizations and policymakers involved in the Asian response to HIV and drug use. ANPUD’s existence is critical to efforts to improve policies and services that affect the lives of drug using communities, and can contribute expertise, resources and peer support to strengthen national responses and build drug user networks. ANPUD will also focus its advocacy efforts on improving the quality of lives for people who use drugs, harmonization of policies, decriminalization, access to evidence-based, locally-driven harm reduction services, HIV prevention and treatment services and increased access to hepatitis C treatment for drug users in Asia.

The Director of the UNAIDS Regional Support Team, Dr. Prasada Rao, spoke of the urgent need to engage with drug user networks and offered his support to ANPUD, saying that “for UNAIDS, HIV prevention among drug users is a key priority at the global level. I am very pleased today to be here to see ANPUD being shaped into an organization that will play a key role in Asia’s HIV response. It is critical that we are able to more effectively involve the voices of Asian people who use drugs in the scaling up of HIV prevention services across Asia.”

By 31st December 2009, ANPUD will be officially registered as an organization. In the meantime, the constitution and governance documents have been approved. An interim Steering Committee composed of six representatives was formed, with Mohamad Firdaus (Apit) from Malaysia, Bun Bong from Cambodia, Ekta Thapa Mahat from Nepal, Hadi Yusfian from Indonesia, Myo Kyaw Lynn (Tom) from Myanmar and Yvonne Sibuea from Indonesia as elected representatives. 

The Steering Committee is supported by a Technical Support Team who will mentor the members of the Steering Committee over the next few months.

At the end of the meeting, Ekta was proud to be taking back something concrete to Nepal: “When I go back home, I am now responsible for sharing the experiences with the 250 or so drug users who are actively advocating for better services at the national level. It will be a great way for us to work together and help build the capacity of people who use drugs in Asia.” 

Ele Morrison, Program Manager,   Regional Partnership project,  of Australian Illicit and Injecting Drug Users League (AIVL), said that “the results of the meeting exceeded my expectations. The participants set ambitious goals for themselves and they have achieved a lot in just two days to setup this new organization. The building blocks for genuine ownership by people who use drugs is definitely there.” This meeting was organized by drug users, for drug users, with financial support from the World Health Organisation (WHO), the United Nations Regional Task Force and AIVL.

For more information, please contact Ekta at Abhiyan06@gmail.com / +977-98411 63331 or Jimmy Dorabjee at Jimmyd@burnet.edu.au / +61-419 354892.