Ensured human rights and access to healthcare for people who use drugs (PUD) is on the horizon, and we can get there together if we continue to exchange methodologies and develop joint strategies. This was one of the main conclusions of more than 40 professionals representing people who use drugs from 8 countries who came together in Amsterdam last week. The meeting involved all partners in the Bridging the Gaps PUD project, coordinated by AIDS Foundation East-West and Mainline. Various best practices from different countries were shared and discussed.

During the meeting, local partners from Georgia, Indonesia, Kenya, Kyrgyzstan, Nepal, Pakistan, Tajikistan and Ukraine exchanged their experiences with each other. Every organisation faces its own obstacles, in many cases depending on local policies. At the same time there are many similarities: the provision of quality services targeted to the needs of the target group has a priority in every country – as well as a continuous lobby towards the government. Aim of this lobby is the acknowledgement of right to health care for every citizen, also those who use drugs.

You talk about human rights? Forget about human rights! They don’t even treat us like humans! Loon Gangte, India

Third-class citizens

Shoasee Mohamed from our Kenyan partner Omari Project: “I didn’t expect that the different partners would have so much in common. In Kenya, already years ago we were faced with the same challenges that our Eastern European and Central Asian partners are facing now. For them our experience is valuable. Moreover, this meeting has given me the feeling that our work really matters. That is extremely motivating!”

I didn’t expect that the different partners would have so much in common. Moreover, this meeting has given me the feeling that our work really matters. That is extremely motivating! Shoasee Mohamed, Kenya

About his personal drive to work with PUD living with HIV in Kenya Shoasee said: “A good friend of mine died because of the consequences of drug use and AIDS. For him, help came too late. Luckily the situation in Kenya is changing. The number of PUD who can access HIV-treatment is growing. Healthcare professionals are starting to realise that it is ineffective to treat them as third-class citizens. We try to bring as many healthcare providers as possible to our projects to sensitize them on this issue.”

From inspiration to implementation

Sending the participants back home with inspiration is one thing. But another thing is to ensure that they have the skills and tools needed to implement new ideas in their daily work. Therefore, the meeting also involved a number of different workshops. Among the topics addressed were:

  • Addressing the specific needs of people who use drugs living with HIV 
  • Training of service providers, law enforcement and prison staff
  • Use of knowledge platforms and E-learning

The three-day meeting was concluded with site visits to harm reduction facilities in Amsterdam.