The International Conference on AIDS and Sexually Transmitted Infections in Africa (ICASA) is the headline conference in the region, and an important opportunity to advance the HIV response. However, people who use drugs and the harm reduction community have been consistently marginalised and under-represented at these events.
Despite the 2019 conference (in Kigali, Rwanda) having more than 8,500 delegates and an objective to “Rethink gender norms, human rights-based approaches and inclusion towards equitable and accessible HIV and AIDS services including key populations”, there was once again very little focus on harm reduction, and poor visibility for people who inject drugs. This crucial aspect of the HIV response was restricted to only two satellite events and around five poster presentations.
We are calling on ICASA to proactively address this imbalance, starting with preparations for the 2021 conference.
Proposed Objective: To raise the profile of evidence-based harm reduction programs and promote integrated rights-based and stigma free interventions and policies for Africans who use drugs.
It is estimated that there may be as many as 2 million people who inject drugs in Africa, of whom more than 11 percent are living with HIV. Yet services remain woefully unavailable, and only a few African countries have adopted this approach – most often with external funding, and through NGOs rather than state provision. According to UNAIDS, people who inject drugs account for 8 percent of all new HIV infections in Sub-Saharan Africa, and 37 percent of all new infections in the Middle East and North Africa. This is a population that cannot be overlooked if we are to end AIDS in Africa.
Furthermore, the conference in Uganda is an opportune moment for this conversation – the host country itself has begun to embrace the harm reduction approach in response to its own domestic drug use challenges.