Representatives of harm reduction, human rights and drug user groups sent a letter to UNAIDS Executive Director Michel Sidibe expressing their strong concern about his speech at the opening plenary of the Eastern European and Central Asian AIDS Conference, which took place in late October in Moscow. The letter expressed particular concern about three elements of his remarks: his statement that the UN is “completely against drug use and legalization of drugs;” his urging of each country in the region to “define within its legislation the harm reduction package it needs, just like China has done with great success;” and his repeated praise of the leadership and progress of the Russian government in the fight against AIDS. The letter was signed by the Eurasian Harm Reduction Network, the Open Society Institute, the Andrey Rylkov Foundation, the Ukrainian OST Patients Association, the Hungarian Civil Liberties Union, the International Treatment Preparedness Coalition in Eastern Europe and Central Asia, and the Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network.

Michel Sidibe replied with a letter in which he said that “UNAIDS is unequivocal in our call for the decriminalization of people who use drugs,” and promised to use the occasion of the Global Fund board meeting in Addis Ababa to express concern about the need to maintain and scale-up harm reduction programs in Russia and other countries of the region.