1 December 2003

"HIV-AIDS Epidemic Can Be Prevented and Reversed Among Injecting Drug Users," Says UNODC Head

VIENNA, 1 December (UN Information Service) -- Following is the message of Antonio Maria Costa, Executive Director, United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) on the occasion of World AIDS Day, observed annually on 1 December.

10 people are infected with HIV every minute of every day, 95 per cent of them in developing countries. The fastest growing rate of new infections is now found in Eastern Europe and in Central, South and South-East Asia, where HIV is being transmitted mainly through the sharing of drug injecting equipment.

It is estimated that 10 per cent of all infections result from unsafe injecting behaviour. It is estimated that there are 12.6 million injecting drug users worldwide. In some regions, up to 90 per cent of all injecting drug users are HIV infected. The prevention of HIV/AIDS associated with drug use is core to the work of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime.

There is overwhelming scientific evidence that a comprehensive package of interventions can prevent and reverse an HIV/AIDS epidemic among injecting drug users. However, in most countries where injecting drug use is a significant route of HIV transmission, less than five per cent of all injecting drug users are reached with prevention services. Experience indicates that decisive prevention activities often start only after a significant number of injecting drug users are already HIV infected.

The fight against HIV/AIDS requires an ongoing commitment, political will and courageous leadership at all levels. Only sustained and comprehensive approaches to prevention, care, and treatment can work. Interventions need to be accelerated with the support and involvement of people from all walks of life, including people living with HIV/AIDS.

HIV/AIDS is also a human rights crisis. Stigma and discrimination surrounding people living with HIV/AIDS create barriers that undermine efforts to contain the epidemic and are major obstacles in encouraging people to take advantage of prevention and care services. We need to speak up, and by doing so, to tear down the walls of silence, stigma, and discrimination. In the world of AIDS, silence is death. Africa has learned this lesson the hard way. Denial and ignorance will not reverse this epidemic.                                                                                                                                     

UNODC is playing a leading role in raising awareness and supporting global, regional and national efforts to prevent and arrest the spread of the twin epidemics of HIV/AIDS and injecting drug use.

For example, UNODC is working on a pilot project to minimize the adverse health and social consequences among injecting drug users in Karachi, Pakistan. The project set up two drop-in centres to provide life-saving services such as a needle exchange, condoms, peer counselling and basic primary health care - including referrals for drug treatment. The centres serve approximately 1,000 injecting drug users in Karachi.

UNODC is a Cosponsor of UNAIDS.

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