International Narcotics Control Board Hindering HIV/AIDS Control Efforts, Should Be Independently Reviewed, Report Says
The International Narcotics Control Board is hindering efforts to fight the spread of HIV, especially among injection drug users, and its practices should be independently reviewed, according to a report released on Tuesday, Reuters reports. The report -- titled "Closed to Reason" and released by the Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network and the Open Society Institute -- says that one in three HIV cases outside of Africa are caused by injection drug use. The report adds that although the control board has acknowledged this problem, it has rejected "effective programs," such as needle-exchange programs and methadone treatment, Reuters reports. The control board is independent body of 13 members, who are elected by United Nations members, that oversees the implementation of international drug control regulations, Reuters reports (Reuters, 2/27). According to Daniel Wolfe, deputy director of OSI's International Harm Reduction Development program, a report released in 2006 by the control board linked injection drug use to the spread of HIV worldwide 18 times, but it "failed even once to urge countries to pursue proven HIV prevention techniques such as syringe exchange" (AP/International Herald Tribune, 2/27). The report also called the control board a "closed body" that is "accountable to no one, that focuses on drug control at the expense of public health and that urges governments to do the same," London's Guardian reports (Boseley, Guardian, 2/28). The report recommends that the control board include members with HIV expertise and that U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon commission an independent evaluation of board's work, the AP/Herald Tribune reports. In addition, the report calls for "great transparency and accountability" by the control board and recommended it "cite specific evidence for its observation about drug use and health and legal grounds for its interpretation of law" (AP/International Herald Tribune, 2/27).
Lewis Comments, Response
Stephen Lewis, former U.N. special envoy for HIV/AIDS in Africa, on Tuesday joined the groups, saying, "It's as though the HIV/AIDS conjunction has passed the International Narcotics Control Board right by," adding, "They are aligning themselves with the virus rather than opposing it determinedly." Lewis also said that while he served as a U.N. special envoy, he expressed support for safe drug injection rooms, adding that the control board complained to former U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan about his comments. "The fact that they would write a letter attempting to silence a critic is a demonstration of how out of control" the board is, Lewis said (Reuters, 2/27). Koli Kouame, secretary of the control board, said that he had compared injection rooms to opium dens in a conversation with Lewis. "Mr. Lewis made a public statement in support of something which is in breach of the convention, which is an injection room," Kouame said. He added, "We should see these people get the treatment they deserve." The control board's annual report, which was scheduled to be released on Wednesday, says that injection rooms are unacceptable because they permit illegal drug use, the Guardian reports (Guardian, 2/28). The control board on Thursday denied claims that it is hindering HIV/AIDS control efforts, saying that it supports needle-exchange programs but not poorly supervised injection rooms. It added that such rooms promote trade in illegal drugs. Control board President Philip Emafo said that claims made in the report are "misplaced and wrong" (Heinrich, Reuters, 3/1).
The report is available online.