Alliance India’s COVID-19 Response: Ensuring essential services for the people who use drugs

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File photo of people who use drugs.

File photo of people who use drugs.

In the first week of April, Alliance India convened a virtual meeting involving public health experts from Delhi (AIIMS) and Punjab (Mental Health Programme, Ministry of Health and Family Welfare) together with community leaders from Sikkim, Uttar Pradesh, Mizoram, and Delhi. The agenda of the meeting was to discuss how to manage drug use related withdrawals amongst those with no access to health services, lifesaving drugs and/or Opioid substitution therapy (OST).

Everyone at the meeting agreed that the best approach was to identify community peers who can reach out to the community members with OST and engage through supportive counselling, food, shelter and treatment literacy. The intention is to reach the community members living in the hardest to reach settings in various parts of India with practically no support systems. The meeting was widely appreciated and more states have requested to join in the coming days as Alliance India continues to lead from the front in its response to the current situation.

Owing to the nationwide lockdown, several community-based organizations working for people who use drugs are facing challenges in procuring essential items such as food since they are not supported through a formal system of funding by the government. They rely on sporadic contributions from private donors and individuals which is not enough to support the work of these organisations.

One such community-based organization based in Delhi shared their plight with the Harm Reduction team of Alliance India. They were running short on food supplies to support the beneficiaries admitted at their community-based centre. The majority of the beneficiaries besides receiving treatment for their drug use are also HIV positive and need a nutritious diet for their antiretroviral treatment and in many cases for co-infections of TB and Hepatitis C Virus as well.

The Harm Reduction team of Alliance India immediately connected them with a partner United Religions Initiative to ensure the delivery of daily food rations and other essentials – rice, dal, spices, sugar, tea, soap, detergent, biscuits, wheat flour – enough for the next few weeks until the lockdown ends. The team has also mobilized individual donations to support the special medical needs of the community members. Moreover, the support they provide is not just restricted to medical interventions but also facilitating access to basic and health services for the overall well-being of people who use drugs.

The community needs organisations to develop assessment and mitigation strategies, especially in the present context of the ongoing lockdown in India. Alliance India continues to work with the community members through the drug user forums using online platforms and social media tools to ensure last mile outreach; ensuring virtual diagnosis, expert consultations and availability of lifesaving medicines and commodities through peer workers from the community who are showing their commitment by doubling up as frontline health workers.

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