Why do we need advocacy for decriminalisation and harm reduction in Eurasia for effective HIV response?

Why are we speaking about harm reduction advocacy in HIV response? Why bother yourself with the issue of drug policy and decriminalisation of drug use and possession?

A simple response is – even the best medicine cannot cure while it is placed in the box in hospital storage. Harm reduction – is the best vehicle connecting people using drugs to testing, treatment and health care. It is the best comprehensive way to provide access to medical help and social support for people using drugs.

I was growing up in University campus area in Kyiv, Ukraine. In 1991, when I reached 15, soviet social systems crashed and violent primitive accumulation of capital (sorry for Marxism) started. University campus became the best scene for open drug trade, accompanied by gangsters’ shootings, corrupted police from the highest level to local cops, easy access to thrown away drugs around. The most surprising story for our peers was not about starting using homemade opiates (sadly, it was quite common), but to quit “the system”. Now I don’t know how many from my class survived alcohol poisoning, drug overdoses or violence.

Since 1996, HIV infection has been spreading lightning-fast among people using drugs in post-soviet countries. At the beginning of 2000s, up to 90% of all HIV-positive cases were among injecting drug users. Available ART treatment appeared in Ukraine only in 2004. My neighbours and friends had all chances to be infected through needles but had no chances for prevention, testing or treatment.