Need for compassion

From: “The Correspondent” – N. 12 Health and development networks – Ciang May (Thailandia) 2005

Massimo Barra from the Italian Red Cross explained the need to treat drug users with dignity and respect, to uphold their basic rights and to reduce drug-related harm. The stigma attached to drug use is causing further marginalisation of this most vulnerable group who are already living on the fringes, and this is directly impeding efforts to prevent the spread of HIV. If we are to put a stop to this trend, communities need to treat drug users in a more humane way respecting them as people with rights and needs.

By working to improve the lives of drug-users by, for example, advocating for their better treatment by police forces, we are creating an enabling environment for harm reduction activi¬ties to be carried out, and this means less HIV transmission. Importantly we are also advocating for their humane treatment so as to reduce human suffering – we must respect that all drug users are different and that addiction is a disease that requires treatment in just the same manner that other diseases require treatment.

Despite all the research findings supporting harm reduction, it is still met with protest by governments all over the world. This is because of a prevailing attitude that drug users are somehow inferior or even evil and that they therefore deserve to be pun¬ished. This is what we must challenge over and over if we are to be successful in changing these attitudes that in turn do so much harm to individuals, families and communities alike. Remaining silent on the issue is only adding to the unjust treatment of a vulnerable group of people and the spread of HIV.