The Netherlands has been a global leader for ensuring the health and human rights of people who use drugs and has contributed significant funding over the past decade for harm reduction and drug policy reform. Within this frame, recent funding decisions signify a withdrawal from this critical agenda.
This letter, signed by 330 civil society and community networks from across the globe, calls on the Dutch government to recommit to their brave and long-standing political and financial support for harm reduction and drug policy advocacy and to continue to build on their significant investment in this issue.
Dear Minister Kaag, Minister of Foreign Trade and Development Cooperation,
CHANGE IN DUTCH FUNDING PRIORITIES WILL SIGNIFICANTLY DISRUPT GLOBAL HIV AND HEPATITIS RESPONSE FOR PEOPLE WHO USE DRUGS
The Netherlands is a global leader for health, human rights and development. Within this frame, the Netherlands has steadfastly aimed to shift the focus of drug policies away from counterproductive and damaging punitive measures, towards ensuring the primacy of human rights, health and development commitments for people who use drugs. In particular, since the inception of harm reduction as a response to drugs in the late 1970s, the longstanding and continuous leadership of the Netherlands in championing this approach has been unparalleled. The Dutch global leadership in the harm reduction movement throughout the past two decades has saved thousands of lives and positively influenced countries towards adopting health, human rights-based and evidence-based approaches to drug use.
Just two years ago, at the 2018 AIDS Conference, hosted by the Netherlands in Amsterdam, there was a special focus on Eastern Europe and Central Asia (EECA), where HIV is predominantly driven by unsafe injecting drug use. The Dutch government used the opportunity to re-iterate its commitment to harm reduction and to addressing the HIV epidemic in EECA. Consistent with this commitment, the current policy ‘strengthening civil society’ and in the Ministry’s SRHR Theory of Change, prioritises people who use drugs and mentions harm reduction explicitly.
In sharp contrast to this, the latest round of funding decisions under the SRHR Partnership Fund represents a drastic shift away from these long-standing and critical priorities. None of the selected partnerships include comprehensive, consistent and high-quality harm reduction service delivery or advocacy for drug policy reform. Moreover, the selected programmes that include HIV as a topic do not substantially include regions such as EECA, the Middle East and South-East Asia – where HIV incidence among people who use drugs is still rising.
There are an estimated 15.6 million people around the world who inject drugs. Just 1% of them live in countries with high coverage of harm reduction services. People who inject drugs are 22 times more at risk of HIV compared with the general population. The 2018 research report ‘the Lost Decade’ demonstrated there had been a 24% decrease in harm reduction funding from international donors between 2007 and 2016; amounting to a shocking 87% shortfall in funding for harm reduction in low- and middle-income countries. In this context, the Dutch have stood out for its ongoing and outstanding commitment to funding harm reduction in low- and middle-income countries. Until now.
The ramifications of the current Dutch funding decision are wide and far-reaching. This letter makes an urgent appeal to the Dutch government, to continue funding life-saving, rights-affirming interventions and drug policy reform work.
The undersigned call on the Dutch Minister of Foreign Trade and Development Cooperation to validate a strong Dutch tradition of promoting a human rights and public health approach. And with that we urge the Netherlands to recommit the brave and long-standing political and financial support for the health and rights of people who use drugs.