This weekend will mark the 30th anniversary of legislation to support the implementation of one of New Zealand’s most successful public health programmes. The New Zealand Needle Exchange Programme has been leading harm reduction in New Zealand for 30 years.
On 17 December 1987, New Zealand became the first country in the world to introduce a state sponsored needle exchange programme when parliament passed the Health (Needles and Syringes) Regulations. This Sunday will be the 30th anniversary of this important legislation.
The needle exchange programme facilitatesthe supply of needles and syringes to people injecting drugs in order to minimise the risk of the spread of blood borne viruses. Due to the early introduction of needle exchange, the prevalence of HIV amongst people who inject drugs in New Zealand is relatively low (0.2% compared to 13% internationally).
Needle Exchange is as important today as it was in the 1980’s. Whilst there have been significant advances made in relation to HIV infection within the community, hepatitis C is a significant issue. With new drugs and patterns of injecting drug use, the needle exchange remains as relevant as ever and at the forefront of harm reduction in New Zealand.
As we approach our 30th year we acknowledge the work of all those involved in the early development of the programme, members of the injecting drug using community who mobilised, self-organised and advocated for support for people who used and injected drugs. Members of the gay community, and sex workers supported this early activism.
New Zealand and Australia have led the world in the development of peer based and peer led needle syringe programmes. We now distribute over $3million needles and syringes each year through a national network of dedicated outlets stretching from Whangarei through to Invercargill and a comprehensive pharmacy programme. Today we remain peer led, and peer based, committed to a health, and human rights based service approach for people who use drugs.
Needle and syringe programmes are an important harm reduction intervention. Harm reduction is based on empathy and a non-judgemental approach, working with people where they are at and however they understand their drug use. Injecting drug users frequently experience stigma and discrimination; this can often present a barrier to accessing services. As peers mainly staff our exchanges, we have an established credibility and trust within the community. Needle exchanges are therefore a safe space and an important source of information and advice.
“The principle of nothing about us, without us, for us has driven the development of needle exchange in New Zealand. Today is an important milestone and an opportunity to acknowledge the activists and pioneers from both the injecting drug using and health community who advocated for this important legislation. Because of their hard work and hard won battles, New Zealand today has an enviable record internationally in reducing the spread of HIV amongst those who inject drugs.” Kathryn Leafe – Executive Director NZNEP
Thumbnail: CC Flickr Todd Huffman