Today is International Drug Users’ Day, where the global community of people who use drugs comes together to celebrate our history and affirm our rights. Twelve years ago today INPUD was formally launched on International Drug Users’ Day by drug user rights activists seeking to create an international platform where members of our community could confidently and proudly advocate for the health and human rights of people who use drugs globally. Every year since, we have marked this day with a celebration of our diverse, vibrant communities’ accomplishments, while also acknowledging our work is more critical than ever.
The COVID-19 pandemic has broadly exposed the failure of our health systems to adequately provide the services and care people need. As is too often the case in times of crisis, people who use drugs have been particularly vulnerable due to this failure as harm reduction services which communities have relied on have been halted, defunded or declared non-essential. This has been particularly troublesome on peer-led harm reduction programmes as service providers have had to face the additional threat of criminalisation if they stray from lockdown measures. Despite these barriers, people who use drugs have looked after each other during the pandemic, providing essential care and services to meet the needs of communities where the state is absent. Advocacy by drug user-led groups has also resulted in some states adopting harm reduction policies championed by the community for decades.
#PeersInThePandemic is a global campaign calling for action on harm reduction and decriminalisation in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
- To influence reform of harm reduction services and programmes by amplifying five key policy asks which are proven to promote the health and protect the human rights of people who use drugs globally.
In January of 2019 Kyrgyzstan, already facing declining donor funding for the HIV response, had the services of their three community-led, non-governmental organisations (NGOs) put to an end due to the cease of funding from the country’s Global Fund (GF) programme. This sudden change left the community of the most marginalised people who inject drugs and people living with HIV with interrupted access to services and changes in service quality.
In April of 2019, the International Network of People Who Use Drugs (INPUD), with support from the Community Rights and Gender Technical Assistance Programme (CRG), decided to investigate the situation to identify measures that might be taken to ensure access to needed services. On top of that, the investigation also intended to learn any lessons that might be relevant to Kyrgyzstan and other middle-income countries facing similar reductions in donor funding and slow implementation of social contracting.
'Out in the Cold' is the result of this work, presenting the findings of an international and local consultant who conducted interviews and focus groups with people who use drugs in Kyrgyzstan to gain an understanding of the situation. The investigation uncovered a number of core lessons from the situation, to which the report provides a number of recommendations:
The International Network of People who use Drugs, Lee’s Rig Hub, Dristi Nepal and the European Network of People who Use Drugs express our deepest condolences to the family members, friends and colleagues of our friend and ally Gill Bradbury, who was a deeply committed and compassionate harm reduction practitioner.
Gill was one of the United Kingdom’s old school harm reduction activists dating back to her years of dedicated practice and professional development as a nurse and harm reduction practitioner. Gill was one of the original harm reduction nurses who championed the health and dignity of people who use drugs. She was a strong harm reduction advocate and a longstanding friend of the drug user rights movement. She was often called on by UK drug user activists to advise those designing new interventions or responding to client health issues within peer-led harm reduction. Gill was a passionate advocate for Drug Consumption Rooms and would have undoubtedly led the establishment of one in the UK had there been political will to do so. She was passionate about women’s rights, and served as one of the first Board Members of the Women and Harm Reduction International Network (WHRIN).
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