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Over 5,000 Police Sign Global Statement of Support for 'Harm Reduction' Approaches to HIV Prevention

PR Newswire

At the 11th International Congress on AIDS in Asia and the Pacific, officers launch global call for rethink of policing to help stop the spread of HIV

BANGKOK, Nov. 20, 2013 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- More than 5,000 law enforcement officials from over thirty countries have publicly called for a rethink to policing, and endorsed a statement of support for 'harm reduction' approaches to drug use and sex work at Asia's largest biennial conference on HIV/AIDS.

Initiated in 2012 by the Melbourne-based Law Enforcement And HIV Network (LEAHN), and with signatories from countries as varied as Thailand, Australia, India, Kyrgyzstan, and the United States, the statement is the first global declaration on HIV prevention supported exclusively by active and former law enforcement officers who say that draconian approaches to policing drug users and sex workers need to be revised in light of the AIDS epidemic.

"'Harm reduction' approaches to HIV prevention among drug users have been scientifically proven by public health experts, but cannot work without the active participation and leadership of law enforcement," said Royal Thai Police Lieutenant Colonel Krisanaphong Poothakool, a signatory to the declaration and a member of LEAHN's international police advisory group. "Without strong police practices grounded in public health and human rights, the spread of HIV among injection drug users -- and to the community -- will continue to be devastating."

The move by the officers to release this declaration at this AIDS conference underscores the continued growth of AIDS in the Asia and Pacific region, where an estimated 4.9 million are now living with HIV, and where law enforcement authorities and policies are frequently out of step with those advanced by public health officials.

HIV in many Asian countries remains concentrated among people who use drugs and those who engage in sex work -- many of whom are often subject to harsh punishments and police harassment. Harm reduction programs that have been proven to reduce HIV among people who use drugs include the distribution of sterile injecting equipment, the prescription of medicines like methadone, or buprenorphine, and naloxone to reduce overdoses and HIV infections, as well as measures to divert those in need to other health services. However, these programs and the people who use them, frequently face harassment and arrest by law enforcement officials.

"With the majority of HIV cases concentrated among criminalized groups, like injection drug users, good police practices are as critical to HIV prevention as condoms or antiviral medicines," said Daniel Wolfe, Director of the Open Society Foundations' International Harm Reduction Development Program. "These officers are making it clear that you can't arrest your way out of the drugs problem, and that it is time to try a different approach that supports public order without undermining public health."

In countries like Kyrgyzstan, Australia, and Kenya, police officers have worked to diminish the arrests of sex workers and drug users, and instead refer them to essential health services. By focusing law enforcement efforts on arresting drug dealers or those who engaged in human trafficking, and by working collaboratively with community and public health organizations, police officers around the world can help turn the tide on HIV.

"Police can be the best friend of worst enemy of HIV prevention programs. It is encouraging to see growing support from so many officers around the world for 'harm reduction' approaches to policing," said Nick Crofts, Director of the Centre for Law Enforcement and Public Health. "Collaboration with these officers is vital, and convincing the rest is critical, if we are ever truly going to stop new infections."

The full Statement of Support by Law Enforcement Agents for Harm Reduction and Related Policies for HIV Prevention can be found here:

About the Law Enforcement And HIV Network:
The Law Enforcement And HIV Network (LEAHN) is a way of connecting people involved in HIV prevention, particularly those working in law enforcement and public health. LEAHN aims to help build sustainable global and local partnerships to work more effectively with vulnerable groups, such as people who inject drugs (PWID), sex workers, prisoners, migrants and men who have sex with men (MSM).

SOURCE Law Enforcement And HIV Network

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