One of the routes of HIV transmission is sharing of needles to inject drugs, a common practice among people who use drugs. People who use drugs (PWUD) are amongst the most marginalised groups within the key population groups and at higher risk of HIV. Their vulnerability is aggravated further because of the stigma, violence, existing punitive laws and curtailing of their human rights. HIV prevalence among people who inject drugs is almost 28 times higher than that of overall adult prevalence.
Harm reduction refers to a strategy to reduce the negative impacts of drug use by providing integrated healthcare services, counselling and awareness services; not necessarily just rehabilitation services. In India, harm reduction strategy is a component of HIV prevention most specifically among people who inject drugs to prevent HIV transmission and address issues and concerns arising from drug use or drug overdose.
Our harm reduction programme works extensively with marginalised communities on access to ‘HIV and harm reduction services with the rights-based approach to promote their overall wellbeing. The programme facilitates policy implementation, sensitization and awareness of drug law enforcement at the national and regional level with advocacy efforts on increased access to service uptake for people who use drugs. For bridging the service delivery gaps, efforts are made to provide technical assistance to the national programme for drug prevention, treatment and care including harm reduction with a particular focus on groups that have been traditionally underserved and not recognized in the programme, including groups like women, youth and transgender persons who use drugs.
The harm reduction services include – condom use promotion, community-based outreach, peer-led interventions, needle and syringe programmes and opioid substitution therapy. Accessing these services in a stigma-free environment could drastically improve the treatment coverage among this highly vulnerable and marginalised population and contribute to curbing HIV and meeting India’s 95:95:95 targets in HIV response.