By Dr. Lincoln Choudhury, independent consultant on behalf of Harm Reduction International
The COVID-19 pandemic and the actions taken by governments to contain it have had a profound impact on health services around the world, including harm reduction. As the World Bank announced an unprecedented global recession, the World Health Organization (WHO) and UNAIDS warned of supply chain disruptions, which could lead to increased deaths among people living with HIV and reverse the hard-fought gains of the global HIV response.
In April 2020, a civil society statement on COVID-19 and people who use drugs endorsed by over 300 organisations and individuals called upon the international community to ‘ensure, through policy guidelines and financial and political support, that national, regional and global responses to this pandemic take the needs of people who use drugs into account and respect the fundamental rights of all.’3 In May 2020, Harm Reduction International (HRI) and the International Network of People who Use Drugs (INPUD) called upon donors and governments to safeguard funding for harm reduction throughout the COVID-19 pandemic and support service providers to adapt to related restrictions.
Understanding the impact of COVID-19 on harm reduction funding and service provision is essential for informing donor and government action as well as civil society advocacy. This report compiles evidence from civil society in seven Asian countries (Cambodia, India, Indonesia, Nepal, Thailand, the Philippines and Vietnam) between January and July 2020. The burden of COVID-19 and the response to it at national and local levels differed between these countries. All implemented some degree of physical distancing, the use of masks in public places and promoted hand hygiene. Although most imposed short duration, locally-based physical distancing or lockdown measures, India and Nepal imposed more rigorous, country-wide requirements.