Statement by Aram Barra
On behalf of PACT
Thank you chair.
We wish to congratulate the UNAIDS PCB for a long day of very important discussions for an essential component in the HIV response: harm reduction.
However, we, the PACT, a coalition of 26 youth-led and youth-serving organizations around the world, would like to reflect on the lack of attention dedicated to young people who inject drugs -particularly minors who inject drugs.
As you know, young people aged 10 through 24 years constitute one-quarter of the world’s population, and they are among those most affected by the global epidemic of HIV.
In 2012, an estimated 5.4 million people aged 10–24 years were living with HIV and we face an estimated 39% of all new infections worldwide.
While governments have a legal obligation to support the rights of those under 18 years of age to life, health and development — key populations are made more vulnerable by policies and laws that demean or criminalize them or their behaviours, and by education and health systems that ignore or reject them and that fail to provide the information and treatment they need to keep themselves safe.
Although global coverage of harm-reduction services has slowly increased, there is a lack of services tailored to and accessible to young people, despite low ages of initiation into injecting drug use in many countries and important differences in vulnerability and risk between younger and older people who inject drugs.
Consequently, young people who inject drugs find it difficult to obtain information, sterile injecting equipment, drug dependence treatment, including methadone treatment for opioid dependence, and HIV testing, counselling and treatment.
Age restrictions or requirements for parental consent can also make services less accessible.
Madam chair, according to community consultations with young people who inject drugs conducted in 14 different countries in the last year by Youth RISE – where young drug users shared their experiences and raised their challenges in accessing harm reduction.
Harm reduction and treatment programmes that exist today are frequently NOT designed to respond to the overlapping vulnerabilities of young people who inject drugs or the legal challenges in working with minors.
These vulnerabilities require responses that may go beyond the harm-reduction programmes recognized as effective for adults.
Because of this, Maddame Chair, we wish to urge member states to reflect on the need for:
- removal of arbitrary age restrictions and parental consent requirements which are clearly barriers to accessing needle and syringe programmes and OST for adolescents.
- disaggregated data by age and sex, which is a key requirement to know our epidemic and tailor youth-friendly, gender-sensitive, comprehensive health services.
- meaningfully engage young people in the design, implementation and evaluation of all programs for young people who use drugs.
Finally, Madam chair, we urge member states to help us build comfortable, non-judgemental environments that expresses compassion for young people who use drugs.
Whilst a sensitive topic for many, we honestly hope that the lived experiences and views of young people themselves can engender more honest conversations on how to address the reality of injecting drug use among adolescents and young people.