By Dainius Pūras, UN Special Rapporteur on the right to health / OHCHR

In the current COVID-19 context, people who use drugs face unique needs and risks, due to criminalisation, stigma, discrimination, underlying health issues, social marginalisation and higher economic and social vulnerabilities, including a lack of access to adequate housing and healthcare. Treatment and harm reduction services should continue to be provided to them.

16 April 2020 - COVID-19 is now a global public health emergency posing unprecedented challenges, creating new vulnerabilities, and exacerbating existing ones. The situation presented by the COVID-19 pandemic requires countries to take extraordinary measures to protect the health and well-being of the population. COVID-19 will impact each country differently depending on the health infrastructure, the spread of the virus, the political, economic and social context, as well as the country’s preparedness.

As COVID-19 spreads, all our efforts should be focused on slowing down its spread and ensuring that the most vulnerable people receive the protection and care they are entitled to. Preventing the spread of this virus requires outreach to all, and ensuring equitable and non-discriminatory access to information, prevention, medical care and treatment for all persons, irrespective of their citizenship, nationality or migratory status.

Everyone, without exception, has the right to life-saving interventions and this responsibility lies with the national authorities. It is essential that governments introducing measures to impede the spread of the COVID-19, undertake a range of additional actions to reduce the potentially negative impact such measures may have on people’s lives.

In accordance with the World Drug Report 2019 globally, some 35 million people, up from an earlier estimate of 30.5 million reported in 2016, are affected by drug use disorders and require treatment and harm reduction services. The latest available data indicates that the death toll has been also higher: 585,000 people died as a result of drug use in 2017. In the current COVID-19 context, people who use drugs face unique needs and risks, due to criminalisation, stigma, discrimination, underlying health issues, social marginalisation and higher economic and social vulnerabilities, including a lack of access to adequate housing and healthcare. Vulnerable groups of people who use drugs should be recognised as a high-risk population in order to mitigate the spread of the pandemic.