A health issue

Adopting a harm reduction policy in the combat of drugs is key to eliminating diseases like hepatitis

The adoption of a harm reduction policy to address the drug problem is key to combating the hepatitis B and C epidemics around the world. The strategy is defended by civil society organizations that are part of the viral hepatitis community – a community that includes people living with viral hepatitis, doctors, nurses, social workers, researchers, public health experts and people who use drugs.

It is estimated that among the 15.6 million people who currently inject drugs, 52% are hepatitis C antibody positive and 9% are living with chronic hepatitis B infection. It is believed that sharing needles, syringes and other injecting equipment is responsible for nearly 23% of new infections.

According to the organizations, providing disposable syringes, for example, is a pragmatic way to stop an already complex problem – drug dependence – from getting even worse. Similarly, the WHO (World Health Organization) has also identified harm reduction as one of the five core interventions needed to reach the goal of eliminating viral hepatitis by 2030.

“From a public health and human rights perspective, improving access to prevention and treatment for people who use drugs is crucial to reducing hepatitis C incidence and eliminating the epidemic,” said the organizations, who also drew attention to the fact that “even in countries that have integrated harm reduction into domestic public health policies, criminalization remains a glass ceiling – as the fear of arrest continues to drive people away from prevention and care services”.

The organizations expressed their concerns in a declaration read during the “World Hepatitis Summit” that took place from November 1-3 in São Paulo. Conectas signed the document together with another 21 organizations.

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