More than forty major civil society organizations working in the field of HIV and drugs in Russia and internationally, have sent an open letter to the Secretary General of the United Nations calling to advocate for human rights oriented and scientifically based drug treatment and HIV prevention in Russia. Ban Ki-Moon is arriving to Moscow on April 21, 2011 and has scheduled several meetings with high level Russian officials, including the President Dmitry Medvedev.
Currently, the number of new cases of HIV in the country continues to grow and has long passed a critical point. According to the UN documents Russia remains among a few countries worldwide where HIV epidemics are on the rise. This epidemic is driven by sharing contaminated injection equipment for drug use. At the same time the government denies its drug dependent citizens access to life-saving evidence-based prevention and treatment interventions such as opioid substitution treatment with methadone or buprenorphine and needle and syringe HIV prevention programs, recommended by the UN.
“Neglecting the rights of people who use drugs, especially at the concentrated stage of the HIV/AIDS epidemic, will inevitably lead to serious health and social consequences for the society as a whole”, the letter says. It goes on by pointing out that the Russian government has “failed to ensure universal access to HIV prevention and treatment when millions of people who inject drugs are deprived of medical and social services support because the Government’s rejects the UN-recommended comprehensive package which includes substitution treatment and needle and syringe programs”.
Currently the use substitution treatment is legally banned in Russia which many experts believe is contrary to the letter and spirit of the UN Drug Conventions. Needle and syringe programs are considered by the Government as a threat to the national anti-drug strategy. Public debates on these issues are officially stifled and since recently, officially subjected to a legal ban.
The letter emphasises that efforts of civil society and international organizations are counterbalanced by the Government’s ideology-driven position of “zero tolerance” toward drug use. Numerous violations of human rights stemming from Russia's repressive and ineffective policy toward people using drugs have been documented and submitted to the UN Human Rights bodies”.
The civil society organizations called upon the UN Secretary General to urge the Russian Government to officially recognize the UN-recommended interventions as essential in combating HIV among drug users. According to the UN official documents, needle and syringe programs and substitution treatment are among the nine core interventions to prevent HIV among injecting drug users. Methadone and buprenorphine are included on the WHO Model Essential Medicines List.
It is noteworthy that during his visit to Cambodia at the end of 2010, the UN Secretary General met with patients of a methadone clinic and some of them received methadone from his hands and hands of his wife.
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