News / Asia

After Decades of Silence, Drug Users Gain Seat At AIDS Conference

FILE - Flowers are laid as tributes to those killed in the Malaysia Airlines flight MH17, at the base of a large sign for the 20th International AIDS Conference in Melbourne, Australia, July 20, 2014.
FILE - Flowers are laid as tributes to those killed in the Malaysia Airlines flight MH17, at the base of a large sign for the 20th International AIDS Conference in Melbourne, Australia, July 20, 2014.
Anita Powell

Intravenous drug users at the International AIDS Conference say their particular needs have been overlooked in broad efforts to stem the spread of the virus.

But that has changed this year, as a group of drug users has been allowed space in the venue. They hope their presence and their voices will lead to greater progress in the fight against AIDS.

Ruth says she has heard every argument against her longtime heroin use.

“People who use drugs aren’t aliens. They aren’t bent on self-destruction or interested in punching your grandmother for her TV,” Ruth said. “We’re just all making our way in this world as best we can, and some people find that drugs help them do that, and some people don’t. And I really don’t think it should be the business of those who don’t to mess with the business of those who do.”

Ruth asked us to leave her surname out of this story because heroin is illegal in her native Australia.

IV drug users

Most people view so-called recreational drugs as potentially deadly addictions. But, Ruth argues, that does not mean that regular IV drug users like her deserve to be marginalized in discussions about their elevated risk of acquiring HIV.

And so, for the first time, after years of lobbying, a small booth in the corner at this year’s conference hall proclaims: People Who Use Drugs. A member of the community also addressed the conference during the closing ceremony.

The drug users’ stand is adorned with eye-searing paintings of the five-pointed cannabis leaf, the rounded coca leaf and a splotch of bright pink something that Ruth says is a type of opium poppy.

The booth, she is quick to point out, does not dispense any illegal drugs.

But, she says, it provides visibility for a large segment of the HIV-positive community - one that was among the epidemic’s first victims, but which remains nearly silent in discussions about the illness.

Ruth says that the medical community should consider the particular circumstances of drug users, instead of flatly condemning drugs. She says the AIDS community is slowly coming around to this idea.

“I think it’s becoming more and more difficult for the international HIV and AIDS community to exclude drug users. It’s just becoming silly to do so if we’re going to tackle this epidemic, we need to be looking at the environments that allow HIV to flourish, and certainly criminalization of both sex work and drug use are the best friends of HIV,” she says.

New infections

Susie McLean, a senior adviser on HIV and drug use at the International HIV/AIDS Alliances, agrees, noting that if you exclude data from sub-Saharan Africa, 30 percent of all new HIV infections worldwide are among drug users.

“They’re not a marginal group in terms of the HIV dynamics,” McLean says. “They’re a primary group. But one of the issues that concerns us that we have tried to get across at this conference, certainly the amount of funding that those populations receive and that the organizations that are serving those populations.”

That may change following a new recommendation from the World Health Organization on the use of Naloxone, a lifesaving drug that can reverse overdoses of drugs like heroin and methadone. But the drug is controversial: some critics argue that drug users will view the antidote as an insurance policy of sorts, and become more reckless.

McLean says her group supports Naloxone, and also wants people to change the way they see drug users.

“Drug users are people like us. They’re our brothers and our sisters, our mothers and our fathers, our sons and our daughters. And we think that a lot of the problem that goes on in public policy is what I tend to call “othering” -- in which we say that people who use drugs are other people over there, and that they’re bad,” McLean says.

“And so what we try to stress is that people who use drugs are people like us. Sometimes they need help and support, always they need human rights. And the more we respond in that kind of way that’s about health and rights, the more possible it is to end HIV,” she adds.

Ruth says she wants, as her ultimate goal, the decriminalization of some illegal drugs - she argues that the criminalization of drugs is driven by politics. And like many other drug decriminalization advocates, she says oversight and regulation will make drugs safer to use and decrease the impact of illegal drug syndicates.

That is a fight that she may or may not win - but for the first time ever at a major AIDS conference, she has been welcomed into the fight against AIDS.

You May Like

Turbulent Transition Imperils Tunisia’s Arab Spring Gains

Critics say new anti-terrorism laws worsen Tunisia's situation while others put faith in country’s vibrant civil organizations, women’s movement More

Burundi’s Political Crisis May Become Humanitarian One

United Nations aid agencies issue warning as deadly violence sends tens of thousands fleeing More

Yemenis Adjust to Life Under Houthi Rule

Locals want warring parties to strike deal to stop bloodletting before deciding how country is governed More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Texas Town Residents Told to 'Just Leave' Ahead of Flood Threati
X
Greg Flakus
May 29, 2015 11:24 PM
Water from heavy rain in eastern and central Texas is now swelling rivers that flow into the Gulf of Mexico, threatening towns along their banks. VOA’s Greg Flakus visited the town of Wharton, southwest of Houston, where the Colorado River is close to cresting.
Video

Video Texas Town Residents Told to 'Just Leave' Ahead of Flood Threat

Water from heavy rain in eastern and central Texas is now swelling rivers that flow into the Gulf of Mexico, threatening towns along their banks. VOA’s Greg Flakus visited the town of Wharton, southwest of Houston, where the Colorado River is close to cresting.
Video

Video New York's One World Trade Center Observatory Opens to Public

From New Jersey to Long Island, from Northern suburbs to the Atlantic Ocean, with all of New York City in-between.  That view became available to the public Friday as the One World Trade Center Observatory opened in New York -- atop the replacement for the buildings destroyed in the September 11, 2001, attacks.  VOA’s Bernard Shusman reports.
Video

Video Seoul Sponsors Korean Unification Fair

With inter-Korean relations deteriorating over the North’s nuclear program, past military provocations and human rights abuses, many Koreans still hold out hope for eventual peaceful re-unification. VOA’s Brian Padden visited a “unification fair” held this week in Seoul, where border communities promoted the benefits of increased cooperation.
Video

Video Purple Door Coffeeshop: Changing Lives One Cup at a Time

For a quarter of his life, Kevin Persons lived on the street. Today, he is working behind the counter of an espresso bar, serving coffee and working to transition off the streets and into a home. Paul Vargas reports for VOA.
Video

Video Modular Robot Getting Closer to Reality

A robot being developed at Carnegie Mellon University has evolved into a multi-legged modular mechanical snake, able to move over rugged surfaces and explore the surroundings. Scientists say such machines could someday help in search and rescue operations. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Shanghai Hosts Big Consumer Electronics Show

Electronic gadgets are a huge success in China, judging by the first Asian Consumer Electronics Show, held this week in Shanghai. Over the course of two days, more than 20,000 visitors watched, tested and played with useful and some less-useful electronic devices exhibited by about 200 manufacturers. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video Forced to Return Home, Afghan Refugees Face Increased Hardship

Undocumented refugees returning to Afghanistan from Pakistan have no jobs, no support system, and no home return to, and international aid agencies say they and the government are overwhelmed and under-resourced. Ayesha Tanzeem has more from Kabul.
Video

Video Britain Makes Controversial Move to Crack Down on Extremism

Britain is moving to tighten controls on extremist rhetoric, even when it does not incite violence or hatred -- a move that some are concerned might unduly restrict basic freedoms. It is an issue many countries are grappling with as extremist groups gain power in the Middle East, fueled in part by donations and fighters from the West. VOA’s Al Pessin reports from London.
Video

Video 3D Printer Makes Replica of Iconic Sports Car

Cars with parts made by 3D printers are already on the road, but engineers are still learning about this new technology. While testing the possibility of printing an entire car, researchers at the U.S. Department of Energy recently created an electric-powered replica of an iconic sports roadster. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video Al-Shabab Recruitment Drive Still on In Kenya

The al-Shabab militants that have long battled for control of Somalia also have recruited thousands of young people in Kenya, leaving many families disconsolate. Mohammed Yusuf recently visited the Kenyan town of Isiolo, and met with relatives of those recruited, as well as a many who have helped with the recruiting.
Video

Video A Small Oasis on Kabul's Outskirts Provides Relief From Security Tensions

When people in Kabul want to get away from the city and relax, many choose Qargha Lake, a small resort on the outskirts of Kabul. Ayesha Tanzeem visited and talked with people about the precious oasis.
Video

Video Kenyans Lament Losing Sons to al-Shabab

There is agony, fear and lost hope in the Kenyan town of Isiolo, a key target of a new al-Shabab recruitment drive. VOA's Mohammed Yusuf visits Isiolo to speak with families and at least one man who says he was a recruiter.
Video

Video Scientists Say Plankton More Important Than Previously Thought

Tiny ocean creatures called plankton are mostly thought of as food for whales and other large marine animals, but a four-year global study discovered, among other things, that plankton are a major source of oxygen on our planet. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Kenya’s Capital Sees Rise in Shisha Parlors

In Kenya, the smoking of shisha, a type of flavored tobacco, is the latest craze. Patrons are flocking to shisha parlors to smoke and socialize. But the practice can be addictive and harmful, though many dabblers may not realize the dangers, according to a new review. Lenny Ruvaga has more on the story for VOA from Nairobi, Kenya.

VOA Blogs