July 26, 2012
In an international campaign launched during the 19th International AIDS conference, two Canadian doctors are calling on world leaders to stop the spread of AIDS by ending the so-called "war on drugs."
The British Columbia-based AIDS specialists, Drs. Evan Wood and Julio Montaner, joined British billionaire Richard Branson and former presidents of Brazil and Columbia, among others, in asking world leaders to show "leadership," "courage" and "to do the right thing." Wood said that while HIV infections rates are falling globally, they appear to be rising in countries with aggressive policies for prosecuting drug-related crimes.
The campaign is endorsed by supporters of the 2010 Vienna Declaration, which urges governments to craft evidence-based drug policies.
Injection drug use accounts for one-third of new HIV infections outside sub-Saharan Africa, according to the B.C. Center for Excellence in HIV/AIDS and the International Center for Science in Drug Policy.
"I think globally we're seeing a real shift in terms of public opinion and a recognition that addiction should be treated more as a health issue rather than a criminal justice issue," Wood said.
Wood argued that the war on drugs spreads HIV by forcing addicts into hiding and away from health officials. He noted that HIV is spreading among prison inmates who inject drugs.
Discussions about law enforcement and drugs, including such issues as mandatory minimum prison sentences and the decriminalization of marijuana, have been active in Canada recently. At the Summit of the Americas in April, Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper agreed the current approach is not working.