News / Asia

Health Experts Urge Change in Drug Policies to Reduce AIDS Infections

Dr. Nicholas Thomson, of the John Hopkins School of Public Health
Dr. Nicholas Thomson, of the John Hopkins School of Public Health
Ron Corben

Health officials in Asia say harsh legal penalties against drug trafficking and abuse may increase the rate of HIV infection among drug users.  Health experts are now urging governments to use of so-called harm reduction strategies to combat drug abuse and stem the rise in AIDS infection.

Most Asian nations have little tolerance for illicit drug users and traffickers.  Many impose stiff penalties, including the death penalty for the transportation and sale of opiates such as heroin and amphetamine type stimulants (ATS).

Prison populations in Asia have increased as a result of drug-related convictions.  The prison population doubled in Thailand between 1996 and 2004 due to the criminalization of methamphetamines in 1996.

Now, a growing number of analysts and health officials say such harsh penalties may contribute to the spread of HIV, the virus that causes AIDS.  

Ton Smits is executive director of the Asian Harm Reduction Network, based in Chiang Mai, Thailand.  He says repressive environments, such as Thailand's war on drugs initiative that began in 2003 creates a climate of fear.  He says a new approach is necessary.

"As long as we have a black and white approach where we have a zero tolerance position then it will be difficult to make any progress," he said.  "Thailand is not alone. All countries and governments in the region that are struggling to accept a policy. The challenge really is that once you agree this needs to be done that action is taken, but what is happening is basically too little, too slow and too late."

A study conducted by the Asian Harm Reduction Network, and funded by the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, found that as heroin use declined ATS abuse increased, including injecting such drugs as a substitute for heroin.

Thailand has some 600,000 people with the AIDS virus. Within this group, 30 to 50 percent of intravenous drug users are HIV-positive.  But Thailand, like other Asian countries, imposes tough penalties on drug traffickers and users.

Health officials and non-government groups are pressing governments to adopt more harm reduction strategies to reduce the spread of the AIDS virus.  Such strategies include needle exchanges and programs to substitute heroin with less addictive drugs, like methadone.

The Thai Government is moving to adopt harm reduction strategies in its drugs policies.  Dr. Nicholas Thomson, of the John Hopkins School of Public Health, says harm reduction policies in Australia have succeeded in lowering HIV rates among intravenous drug users to less than one per cent.

Thomson says promoting links with key groups in society, including the judiciary and police, hold the key to a harm reduction policy being put in place.

"The issues and promoting partnerships with public health and public security at both a district village level and also at the national level, it's the way to go and we're not going to get anywhere unless we can bring the Interior Ministry and the Ministry of Justice fully on board," said Thomson.

Thomson says the fact that Thailand has been unable to lower HIV rates among intravenous drug users indicates the need for a different strategy.

You May Like

Multimedia Social Media Documenting, Not Driving, Hong Kong Protests

Unlike in Arab Spring uprisings, pro-democracy protesters in Hong Kong aren't relying on Twitter and Facebook to organize, but social media still plays a role More

Analysis: Occupy Central Not Exactly Hong Kong’s Tiananmen

VOA's former Hong Kong, Beijing correspondent compares and contrasts 1989 Tiananmen Square protest with what is now happening in Hong Kong More

Bambari Hospital a Lone Place of Help in Violence-Plagued CAR

Only establishment still functioning in CAR's second city is main hospital 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.
The Legacy of Jimmy Carter: The Preacher from Plainsi
X
October 01, 2014 10:45 AM
It is common in the United States to see tourists flock to sites associated with America's presidents. Some are privately owned and others are run by the National Park Service or the National Archives -- but most have helped draw business and people into the towns and cities where they are located. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, there is one particular presidential hometown that is unique in what it has to offer those who make the trip.
Video

Video The Legacy of Jimmy Carter: The Preacher from Plains

It is common in the United States to see tourists flock to sites associated with America's presidents. Some are privately owned and others are run by the National Park Service or the National Archives -- but most have helped draw business and people into the towns and cities where they are located. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, there is one particular presidential hometown that is unique in what it has to offer those who make the trip.
Video

Video Hong Kong Protests Draw New Supporters on National Holiday

On the 65th anniversary of the founding of Communist China, Hong Kong protesters are hoping to stage the largest pro-democracy demonstration since the 1989 Tiananmen protests. VOA's Brian Padden visited one of the protest sites mid-day, when the atmosphere was calm and where the supporters were enthusiastic about joining what they are calling the umbrella revolution.
Video

Video India's PM Continues First US Visit

India's prime minister is on his first visit to Washington, to strengthen political and economic ties between the world's oldest and the world biggest democracies. He came to the U.S. capital from New York, the first stop on his five-day visit to the country that denied him an entry visa in the past. From Washington, Zlatica Hoke reports Modi seemed most focused on attracting foreign investment and trade to increase job opportunities for his people.
Video

Video Malaysia Struggles to Stop People Joining Jihad

Malaysian authorities say militant groups like the so-called "Islamic State" have used social media to entice at least three dozen Malaysian Muslims to fight in what they call "jihad" in Syria and Iraq. As Mahi Ramkrishnan reports from Kuala Lumpur, counterterrorism police are deeply worried about what could happen when these militants return home.
Video

Video Could US Have Done More to Stop Rise of Islamic State?

President Obama says airstrikes against Islamic State militants in Syria will likely continue for some time because, in his words, "there is a cancer that has grown for too long." So what if President Obama had acted sooner in Syria to arm more-moderate opponents of both the Islamic State and the Syrian government? VOA State Department Correspondent Scott Stearns reports from the United Nations.
Video

Video Treasure Hunters Seek 'Hidden Treasure' in Central Kenya

Could a cave in a small village in central Kenya be the site of buried treasure? A rumor of riches, left behind by colonialists, has some residents dreaming of wealth, while others see it as a dangerous hoax. VOA's Gabe Joselow has the story.
Video

Video Ebola Patients Find No Treatment at Sierra Leone Holding Center

At a holding facility in Makeni, central Sierra Leone, dozens of sick people sit on the floor in an empty university building. They wait in filthy conditions. It's a 16-hour drive by ambulance to Kailahun Ebola treatment center. Adam Bailes was there and reports on what he says are some of the worst situations he has seen since the beginning of this Ebola outbreak. And he says it appears case numbers may already be far worse than authorities acknowledge.
Video

Video Identifying Bodies Found in Texas Border Region

Thousands of immigrants have died after crossing the border from Mexico into remote areas of the southwestern United States in recent years. Local officials in south Texas alone have found hundreds of unidentified bodies and buried them in mass graves in local cemeteries. Now an anthropologist and her students at Baylor University have been exhuming bodies and looking for clues to identify them. VOA’s Greg Flakus has more from Waco, Texas.
Colonel Steve ‘Spiros’ Pisanos left Greece and came to the U.S. to learn to fly. He flew fighters for the Allies in World War II, narrowly escaping death multiple times.Colonel Steve ‘Spiros’ Pisanos left Greece and came to the U.S. to learn to fly. He flew fighters for the Allies in World War II, narrowly escaping death multiple times.

AppleAndroid