The Senlis Council Press Conference

Da: “Media summary – The Senlis Council Press Conference” – Wednesday 09 March – Hotel Plaza Hilton
Dr. Massimo Barra, Vice-President of the International Federation of the Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies

The International Movement of the Red Cross and Red Crescent has committed its core principles of humanity and neutrality on its mission of advocacy to work for the most vulnerable people such as the drug users. Facing with the huge and often disturbing human challenge of drug addiction, the Red Cross is playing a leading role in the promotion of life-saving measures like clean needle exchange or substitution programmes.

And this effort goes beyond ideological or political considerations; based solely on compassion and scientific evidence. This effort was translated in a landmark report on HIV/AIDS and Harm Reduction published in 2003. With the title of ‘Spreading the light of science’ the report ensures that innovative prevention programmes like clean needle exchange are implemented throughout the world. Millions of people fall victims of HIV/AIDS through their drug addiction and the one of their partner. The Red Cross believes this suffering, these deaths can be avoided. We say for example: ‘giving clean needles is not an act of complicity, but it is an act of humanity’ It is a report on how the community can save lives and restore drug users dignity.

The report received a very broad welcome from the whole drug policy community, including governments and UN agencies; mainly because it brought the discussion on public health policies to a more rational ground. When 70% of HIV/AIDS infections in Ukraine come from improper drug injection, we face a situation of crisis and urgency. This health crisis extends and threatens the stability of entire regions including Eastern European and Central Asia.

In response the Red Cross established the European Network on HIV/AIDS (ERNA), which develops comprehensive programmes to fight the HIV/AIDS epidemic and provide long-needed care for drug users. Yesterday at the Commission on Narcotic Drugs, during a key debate on HIV/AIDS and drug abuse, European countries and international organisations showed the strength of a new consensus. This consensus tells us that harm reductions work; save lives and give a more positive image to drug users.

This development points the way forward, away from more extreme, ideological positions, which make us loose a precious time. After caring for more than 30,000 drug users in my care centre in Rome, Villa Maraini, throughout the last 30 years, if I have one certainty it is that stigmatisation and criminalisation do not work, and are destructive not to the users alone but for the communities in which they live. Our very own communities. Many countries start to understand this basic fact.

I ask the media of the world to help us to ‘spread the light of science and warmth of human sympathy in every corner of the world’: the very words used in 1919 to create the League of Red Cross Society, which is the mother of the International Federation.
Many thanks for your attention.