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International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies…

… joins forces with drug policy think tank in effort to save lives
“The link between sharing needles and HIV infection must be addressed by governments,” Red Cross Doctor says
Think tank appeals to international community for a pragmatic approach to drug use

The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) today signed an agreement with The Senlis Council, an international drug policy think tank, for future collaboration on issues related to health and drug policy.

The two groups will cooperate on vital issues relating to current international drug policy and its effects on the global HIV/AIDS pandemic.

HIV/AIDS infection rates are particularly alarming in Russia, Eastern Europe and Asia, where the sharing of drug injecting equipment accounts for a very high number of new infections. According to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) 2005 World Drug Report, injecting drug use causes 30% to 80% of HIV/AIDS infection in the region. Both the IFRC and The Senlis Council support the inclusion of simple but effective drug policy measures such as needle-exchange and methadone maintenance programmes in the international drug conventions.

Dr Massimo Barra, Vice-President of the International Federation of the Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies and Director of Villa Maraini Therapeutic Community in Rome, urged for a rapid change in the world’s approach to drug users if an international health disaster is to be avoided.

“Governments are not addressing the direct link between the sharing of needles for injecting drugs and the spread of blood-borne diseases such as HIV/AIDS and Hepatitis C,” said Dr Barra. “This failure to effectively respond to this problem lies with governments, and it is having dramatic consequences on public health. We are facing one of the biggest epidemics of all time, yet the sharing of contaminated needles continues to fuel the transmission of the world’s deadliest virus.”

Emmanuel Reinert, Executive Director of The Senlis Council added that it is every government’s responsibility to accept that there is an urgent need for pragmatic, health-oriented drug policies.

“Resistance to scientific evidence is hindering progress,” said Reinert. “Simple policy measures such as needle exchange could avoid a global AIDS pandemic, but these are not being implemented for purely idelogical reasons. Our principle motivation should be to reduce suffering and save lives.”

In a 2003 report on harm reduction related to injecting drug use, the International Federation calls on the international community to be “guided by the Light of Science, not by the darkness of ignorance and fear.” The report states the need for a more humanitarian treatment of drug users, advocating a wide range of prevention programmes, including access to sterile injecting equipment.

In the previous year, The Senlis Council commissioned the British Institute of International and Comparative Law to draw up a Draft International Treaty for Drug Policies: Promoting Public Health Policies, with a foreword by Dr Barra. The Draft International Treaty establishes the international legal foundations for the promotion of innovative public health responses to drug use such as clean needle exchanges or substitution programmes.

“The Senlis Council is playing an important role in advocating for a more humanitarian drug policy,” said Dr Barra.

Dr Barra also stressed the importance of this new alliance, stating that “it is crucial to unify forces because the priority of both the IFRC and The Senlis Council is to help the vulnerable, regardless of circumstances and without judgement. Drug users are among the most vulnerable people in society.”

In 2008, the United Nations and policy makers around the world will review current international drug policy. This will be an opportunity to make new choices and to base the international drug control system on new humanitarian principles.

The new collaboration between the IFRC and The Senlis Council is an example of Civil Society preparing so that this goal can be achieved in 2008. While the two signatory parties remain independent in their reciprocal field of action, exchange of expertise on an international level is seen as an important step in fulfilling their aims.

Contact: The Senlis Council – Jane Francis Tel: +33 1 49 96 63 70 – Fax: +33 1 49 96 63 73 – email francis@senliscouncil.net – mobile: +33 6 60 26 19 82

About the International Federation of the Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) The Geneva-based International Federation promotes the humanitarian activities of 181 National Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies among vulnerable people. By coordinating international disaster relief and encouraging development support, it seeks to prevent and alleviate human suffering. The Federation, National Societies and the International Committee of the Red Cross together, constitute the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement.

About the Villa Maraini Therapeutic Community Dr Massimo Barra is the Founder and Director of Villa Maraini Therapeutic Community in Rome. The Villa, whose social workers are mainly former drug users, has wide ranging drug rehabilitation activities, including works in the streets of Rome in close cooperation with Police and Carabinieri forces, intervening upon request, if arrested persons have drug problems.

About the Senlis Council The Senlis Council, established in 2002, is an international drug policy think tank which gathers expertise and facilitates new initiatives on global drug policy. The Council convenes politicians, high profile academics, independent experts and Non Governmental Organisations. It aims to work as the dialogue partner with senior policy-makers at both the national and international level in order to foster high-level exchanges and new ideas on integrated drug policies. For more information on the work of the Senlis Council: www.senliscouncil.net

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