Statement by Aram Barra
On behalf of PACT
Thank you Mr. Chairman and good afternoon,
It is with great pleasure that I address you today on behalf of the PACT, a coalition of 26 youth-serving and youth-led organizations within the AIDS movement and UNAIDS. When the PACT was first created, we all had one target in mind: To strengthen a global youth movement in the response to HIV. For this, several subjects needed to be better addressed, but we knew that unless we carved out a prominent space for HIV in the post-2015 agenda, we would not be able to sustain the political momentum needed to end the AIDS epidemic. In this sense, on behalf of the PACT – and also on behalf of the ACT 2015, a global youth-led mobilization initiative, with 160 youth organizations involved in national youth alliances in over 20 countries, we call this evening for the following three points:
FIRST: We need to better support young people who use drugs by eliminating legal barriers and escalating harm reduction services. Today, young people around the world continue to lack access to information around sexual and reproductive health, drug use and sexual diversity. Because of criminalising laws and policies, queer young people, young people who sell sex and young people who use drugs continue to be further exposed to HIV and Hepatitis C — particularly where parental consent laws exist. According to available research, criminalisation of people who use drugs negatively impacts the global burden of disease as it:
- Increases the health risks of illicit drug use
- Increases risks of engaging in sex work or illegal activities to finance
- Drug use, exposing users to violence and sexual risk
- Discourages treatment-seeking for fear of negative consequences
- Limits access to programs that reduce risk by creating legal and policy
- Obstacles to service provision, and
- Increases the risks of imprisonment and other associated health risks
The thematic segment of the 35th meeting of the UNAIDS PCB is focused on people who inject drugs. In this occasion, it is of utmost importance that member states reflect on the urgency for careful and meaningful review of international drug policies. Similarly, the post-2015 agenda, the upcoming 70th Session of the UN General Assembly, the High Level Meeting on HIV/AIDS and the UNGASS on drugs, as well as the renewal of the UNAIDS strategy, represent crucial opportunities to further engage UN agencies and Member States. As we move forward in these negotiations, the public health approach and constructive language agreed by member states in Geneva, the world capital of health diplomacy, must be brought into the negotiations in Vienna and New York.
This brings me to my SECOND POINT: The global discussion around a new post 2015 development agenda needs to appropriately respond to illicit drug use. Without proper targets, it is hard for the international community to re-orient our efforts and assure that we invest where it is more needed, to help people who need it most. The language currently used in the Open Working Group report under Goal 3, target 3.5 intends to (and I quote) “strengthen prevention and treatment of substance abuse, including narcotic drug abuse and harmful use of alcohol.” In the PACT, and after broad consultation with CSO, we humbly suggest that language in target 3.5 is changed for, and I quote, “Reduce by x% the burden of health harm and premature death associated with unhealthy foods and alcohol, tobacco and other drugs.” This suggested language appropriately responds to the world drugs phenomenon from a public health perspective. The PACT will very shortly publish a detailed brief on the reasons for this change, which include the use of ill-defined concepts such as ‘substance abuse’ and ‘narcotic drug abuse’ that are not consistent with definitions of the International Classification of Diseases. As we move forward, the shortcomings of the current system in lessening the illicit drug use global burden, the added human and health costs and the inability to ensure access to palliative care in the global south is simply unacceptable and must not be allowed forward.
THIRDLY, and finally Mr. Chairman, if we are to ensure a more equitable, rights-based and youth-friendly HIV response, we need a specific post 2015 target on universal sexual and reproductive health and rights. Through the ACT 2015 movement, and as noted by Mr. Michel Sidibé in his report to the board, young people are calling for the right to access sexual and reproductive health services and decisions about their own bodies to be recognized in the post 2015 development framework.
We cannot allow the promise of youth in the post-2015 agenda to only address less controversial subjects such as employment and education. Member states cherry picking among the requests that young people have is unethical and acceptable. In conclusion, Mr. Chairman, the PCB has made an outstanding commitment to end the AIDS epidemic by 2030. However, unless we better our drug policies and increase access to harm reduction and health services including protection, promotion and fulfillment of all young people’s sexual and reproductive health and rights, this commitment will not be realized. Thank you!