Italian NGOs take position against their government’s policies on harm reduction

2 June 2011

From Forum Droghe, Italy, 30 May 2011

A joint statement issued by several associations working in the field of AIDS and drug policies (Italian League for the Struggle Against AIDS-LILA, ANLAIDS, CNCA, Forum droghe, Villa Maraini among them) has strongly denounced some alarming negative developments in the official Italian policies concerning HIV and drugs (see also the article by Alessandra Cerioli, president of LILA, in the national daily Il Manifesto, 25 May). Specifically, the ad hoc Undersecretary in the Prime Minister's office, Carlo Giovanardi and the Department of Antidrug Policies (DPA) headed by Giovanni Serpelloni have announced that they would submit a proposal to cancel the term "harm reduction" at the June UNGASS New York meeting on HIV/AIDS, which they propose to substitute with a watered-down "risk reduction".

The rationale of such a proposal, which is also supported by the Vatican State, Russia and Iran, is not merely semantic or lexical. The argument is rather that the term "harm reduction" is all-too-often associated with "inadmissible" practices such as shooting rooms and heroin programs for selected addicts whose response to, e.g., methadone is inadequate. Though the term “harm reduction” has been canceled in all the official documents, Giovanardi and Serpelloni insist that the Italian National Action Plan on Drugs 2010-2013 and related initiatives clearly guarantee the effectiveness of the recommended and authorized measures in preventing the adverse effects of drug overdoses and HIV infections.

Italian NGOs argued that the term "harm reduction" is by now in universal use, both official and non-official, as a result of the well proven effectiveness of harm reduction measures in preventing adverse health consequences, particularly HIV infections. Therefore – they point out – the Italian government is threatening the global policies against the spread of HIV and AIDS for ideological reasons only.

The NGOs also denounce that in Italy the implementation of harm reduction policies is far from being satisfactory. In practice, even the implementation of measures such as the promotion of condom use, the exchange of syringes and substitution therapy is often boycotted in various ways, not least the increasingly large portion of public resources which are denied to the often moribund public services in order to be assigned to private services, including those communities where rapid "detoxication" and abstinence are a qua non and several restrictions are imposed on the subjects.

Italy is also one of the few countries where the Ministry of Health has little power in influencing the decisions on drug problems, particularly the actions aimed at preventing adverse health effects such as HIV infection: this area belongs mainly to the secular arms of the Prime Minister's office, i.e, the Undersecretary Giovanardi and the DPA, while the Italian 2009 and 2010 quotas to the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria have not been paid.

This appalling ensemble of negative circumstances is moving Italy further away from most other European countries and from the EU: a hard fact which is undoubtedly agreeable to those US hawks of the "war on drugs" whose manoeuvres aimed at contrasting the European "permissiveness", performed hand in hand with their Russian counterparts, have recently received wide publicity via Wikileaks and other channels.

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