Human Rights & Faith for People Who Use Drugs in Times of Pandemic
According to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights recognized by the United Nations, all human beings are free and equal, have the right to no discrimination, torture and inhuman treatment, and possess the right to access the basic social services. People who use drugs often have to deal with stigma, exclusion, as well as physical and mental health issues, including HIV, Hepatitis C, etc. Evidence suggests that people who use or inject drugs are at a very high risk of HIV, opioid overdose and other such grave conditions. According to a report by Avert, one-third of all people who inject drugs live in Asia and the Pacific. In 2018, 13% of the new HIV infections in the region occurred among people who inject drugs. Data also suggests that the proportion of people who inject drugs who are HIV positive and aware of their status is low. In India alone, it is estimated that nearly 6.3% of people who inject drugs live with HIV, and out of them only half the population is aware of their status. It was also observed that the prevalence of the disease is much higher among certain subgroups of the population, such as minorities and women.
Due to the stigma that still surrounds people with HIV patients and substance users, these individuals often do not get the resources they require to uplift themselves from the shackles of their past, ending up in more vulnerable situations. They are compelled to stay hidden for survival and are deprived of proper healthcare. People who use drugs are often denied human rights that give them access to essential health and harm reduction services. The situation is not any different globally. According to the 2019 report by UNAIDS; Health, Rights and Drugs: Harm Reduction, Decriminalisation and Zero Discrimination for People Who Use Drugs; people who use drugs continue to be left behind by the society. Despite HIV infections reducing among adults worldwide, there was no decrease in the annual number of new HIV infections among people who inject drugs.
In 2018, United Religions Initiative (URI) and India HIV/AIDS Alliance (Alliance India) launched a novel initiative to build bridges between harm reduction and faith communities called #Faith4HarmReduction, under the Regional Advocacy Grant of the Global Fund, launched the Faith for Harm Reduction Manual- a Training Module for Sensitizing Faith-Based Communities on Health and Rights-Based Approach to Drug Use. The manual is the first step that intertwines the concepts of righteousness, insaniyat (humanity) and sewa (service) found widely across all religions to theologically highlight the narrative of harm reduction in various faith traditions. Within the framework of righteousness, most faith traditions tend to prevent or undermine the use of drugs. This is not because of its association to committing a sinful act and internalising the moral and cultural context; but for reasons of health, wellbeing and peace. The quality of righteousness is, therefore, taken by the individual in a way that their necessary and indispensable acts fulfil their responsibility towards self and society.
On 11th December 2020, URI along with Alliance India, with support from Global Fund, hosted a dialogue called the “Human Rights & Faith For People Who Use Drugs in Times of Pandemic” based on the module Faith for Harm Reduction for the harm reduction champions in the faith-based community. This was the first convening cum training involving Faith Champions from the region. With the aim of removing stigma, nurturing harm reduction champions and fostering partnerships for humanising the cause of drug use so that people who use drugs do not face barriers in accessing healthcare and harm reduction services; the #Faith4HarmReduction initiative was conceived under the “Harm Reduction Advocacy in Asia” (HRAsia) programme funded by the Global Fund, which is being executed by Alliance India in 7 Asian countries under a unique partnership involving national governments, civil society organizations, community networks and key stakeholders i.e., the United Nations, faith based organizations and academia amongst others.
-Written by: Kunal Kishore, Associate Director – Drug Use & Harm Reduction, Alliance India
Subhi Dhapar, Regional Coordinator, North Zone, United Religions Initiative
The full programme recording can be accessed here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rWSraUM_zvs&feature=youtu.be