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Vienna Declaration on Evidence Based Drug Policies -- What Will Ours Be in 2012?

By Carole Treston

July 19, 2010

It's interesting to be viewing this conference with an eye to the future. What can we learn here as we prepare for AIDS 2012 in DC? The 2010 conference theme is "Right Here Right Now" and much of the content is on the intersection of human rights and HIV prevention and access to treatment. Each conference has a theme and some conferences produce a declaration. What will be our theme in 2012 and will we have a collective focus that produces a single issue declaration? In 2008 in Mexico City the theme was "Universal Action Now." There, Ministers of Education and Health from Latin America and the Caribbean countries signed a historic declaration pledging to provide comprehensive sex education as part of the school curriculum in Latin America and the Caribbean. Vienna as the 2010 host city allows for an examination of the epidemic's impact in Eastern Europe. Today, the Vienna Declaration was released and its opening statement is: "The criminalization of illicit drug use is fueling the HIV epidemic and has resulted in overwhelming negative health and social consequences." This is an appropriate focus for this conference, as the impact of drug use on HIV incidence is high and in particular in Eastern Europe. Last night in the Opening Session, I learned that more than 500 new infections occur each day in the 18 countries that make up Eastern Europe/Central Asia. Many of those countries are part of the former USSR. The Vienna Declaration continues, "It is a scientific statement seeking to improve community health and safety by calling for the incorporation of scientific evidence into illicit drug policies. We are inviting scientists, health practioners and the public to endorse this document in order to bring these issues to the attention of governments and international agencies and to illustrate that drug policy reform is a matter of urgent international significance." One speaker from South Africa, Paula Akugizibwe, labeled prisons in this current context as an epidemiological pump for HIV worldwide. The rate of HIV infection in prisons is high around the world. We think there is a link in our communities, with high rates of revolving incarceration in men often for low-level drug offenses, and high rates of heterosexual spread to women in those same communities. It's all interconnected. To view the Vienna Declaration and sign on go to www.viennadeclaration.com.

Ms. Akugizbwe is a young woman from AIDS Risk Alliance for Southern Africa. She spoke about aligning HIV/AIDS and human rights around seven topics: Prisons, IVDU, and Migrants (we call them illegal immigrants- but the challenges they face are universal), LGBT criminalization and stigma (esp. in African countries), sex workers, criminalization of HIV/TB and gender inequalities. All are important, universal and interconnected factors in the HIV epidemic. Her presentation was powerful and intelligent. She opened by playing a rap song "Show me the Money" while flashing pictures of African leaders and recent birthday and other celebrations they held for themselves -- and the cost and how many people on ARVs that amount equals. Young people speaking truth to power -- and to tens of thousands of people! (You can see Lords of the Bling on Youtube.)

Michel Sidibe, Executive Director of UNAIDS talked about some of the recent accomplishments in HIV noting that young people are leading the HIV prevention revolution, that HIV prevalence has dropped among youth in 15 countries as youth are empowered and provided sexual education that provides skills for life. He also once again called attention to the disproportionate impact of HIV on women around the world and stressed that women must have the tools such as female condoms and microbicides to protect themselves and urged us all to demand and ensure full human rights for all women and girls -- rights that include an environment free of fear of violence in protecting themselves from HIV.

Finally, there was a young woman, Rachel Arinii from Indonesia representing youth with HIV, given the task of speaking about Young People at AIDS 2010. She celebrated the diversity and creativity of youth around the world and called on the audience for services that are accessible for young people, that barriers such as parental consent must be removed, and for full protection of the rights of girls and young women. She highlighted the fact that youth-led networks are informal and not hierarchal, but are flexible and creative and noted that although we know for HIV prevention one size does not fit all, many programs now require that one size fits all.

It's two years until AIDS 2012 is in the United States. Many of you will have the opportunity to attend and participate. The planning for this is just starting. What will be our theme? What will be the Washington Declaration? AIDS Alliance encourages you to think about the issues that you face daily and that you sense are global too. What are the themes that most impact our communities and also unites us in this effort?

Founded in 1994, AIDS Alliance for Children, Youth & Families (AACYF) is a national non-profit organization whose mission is to advance the partnership between consumers and providers -- they are the voice of women, children, youth and families living with and affected by HIV/AIDS. AACYF works to enhance and expand access to quality, comprehensive, family-centered care to America's women, children and youth affected by HIV/AIDS. For more information on AIDS Alliance, visit www.aids-alliance.org.




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