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246 human rights abuses against people who use drugs reported over 3 months

People who use drugs frequently suffer human rights abuses, ranging from assault and extortion to having their medicine confiscated, all of which can make it very difficult to access health services.

These are the findings of a report released today as part of the South African Drug Policy Week Conference ‘RUN2016’ happening in Cape Town this week. TB/HIV Care’s StepUp Project recorded 246 human rights violations experienced by people who use drugs in three cities in South Africa over three months.

Shaun Shelly, Advocacy and Psycho-social Co-ordinator for The StepUp Project, said, “We hope that by recording and quantifying these practices, which seem to be tacitly accepted in certain quarters, there will greater awareness that human rights abuses against people who use drugs are indeed happening and are having a significant effect of the delivery of health services to drug users”

The StepUp Project provides health and wellness services such as screening for HIV, TB and sexually-transmitted infections (STIs), other sexual and reproductive health services, distribution of condoms and lubricants, provision of safe injecting equipment, safe disposal of needles and syringes, behaviour change interventions aimed at reducing the risks of drug use and sex, and referral to a range of psychosocial services. The services are provided to people who inject drugs by mobile clinics in recognition that this group of people is particularly vulnerable to a range of health issues, including HIV infection.

While implementing these services the StepUp project staff became aware of a large number of human rights abuses being perpetrated against the people accessing their services. They developed a method of formally logging reports of violations. The 246 violations recorded between August and November 2015 include 28 cases of assault, 8 cases of extortion, 14 detentions without cause and 157 cases of medical supplies being confiscated or broken.

The incidents documented in the report occurred in Cape Town, Pretoria and Durban where the project operates. However in Pretoria they were overwhelmingly concentrated in Moot; and in Belville in Cape Town.

‘Refusing to allow service delivery and harassing service users works against the public good,” says Shelly. “As well as denying people their rights, including the right to access health services, these actions mean that needles can no longer be collected by the StepUp team and the fear of being harassed because they are carrying needles and syringes will encourage people to dispose of needles immediately after use instead of storing them until they can be disposed of safely.

“These actions don’t solve anything,” he added.

Despite the violations, good progress has been made in engaging with communities around providing health services to people who inject drugs. The StepUp Project will continue to work hand-in-hand with communities, police, ward councils and neighbourhood watches with the aim of contributing to the overall wellbeing of all community members, including drug users.

TB/HIV Care Hosts South African Drug Policy Debate

The use of illegal drugs and the various concerns relating to “substance abuse” feature regularly in the headlines and are seen as important issues in almost all communities. Despite this, there continues to be little serious debate over, or even knowledge of, South African drug policy.

In an attempt to help remedy this, TB/HIV Care will be organising a conference, the RUN2016 South African Drug Policy Week to be held from 1st to the 3rd of February, 2016, at the Newlands Sun, Cape Town.

The dialogue will bring together internationally acclaimed speakers and prominent local specialists, representatives of government, academic researchers, law-enforcement officials and civil society professionals so as to facilitate the debate around important drug policy issues in the country and beyond. Such debates are timely, as the conference is to be held just ahead of the 2016 United Nations Special Session (UNGASS) on the “world drug problem”.

Two previous UNGASS sessions have been devoted to drugs, in 1998 and 2009, and a third was scheduled for 2019. However, the international drug policy landscape is changing and the effectiveness of current drug policies is being hotly debated. Many countries are questioning what has been labeled as “the war on drugs”. This has prompted the 2016 UN session, three years earlier than planned.

Despite international debate around drug policy, there has been little review or discussion around South African drug policy. In the run-up to UNGASS 2016, the RUN2016 campaign was launched. South African Drug Policy Week will be used to spark on-going debate among policy makers and other role-players.

There will be a number of interesting and controversial issues raised including the UNAIDS UNGASS submission, harm reduction strategies, the African submission to the UNGASS zero draft and the decriminalisation of drug use itself.

We encourage you to participate. South Africa, we need to talk about drugs. Register here to attend this important collaborative workshop.

World Conference on Lung Health meets in Cape Town

In the first week of December, the 46th World Conference on Lung Health met in Cape Town and TB/HIV Care found itself at the centre of many of the conference activities.

For the first time the conference included a unique community space called the ‘Imbizo’. Intended as a space accessible to all where communities involved in the fight for lung health could come together for discussion, support, learning and inspiration, the Imbizo was a vibrant space. TB Alliance facilitated the painting of a mural including messages of support for the fight against TB in children, a National Health Laboratory Health Service van with a GeneXpert and a TB/HIV Care X-Ray truck were on site to provide TB screening, an indoor soccer pitch helped spread Kick TB/HIV’s messaging and sessions and workshops were organised around a variety of topics.

The Imbizo, with the tagline ‘Your space, my space and our space’, was a collaborative effort organised by a local community committee including Aurum, TB Proof, TAC, Living Hope, AERAS, Western Cape Department of Health, Sonke Gender Justice, Section 27, Mothers2mothers, and Grassroots Soccer. As the lead local co-ordinating organisation, TB/HIV Care convened the organising committee.

On the 3rd of December, a march of 1500 people was organised to rally support for increased investment in TB, particularly in research and development of new diagnostics and treatments. After meeting in Keizergracht Street, the marchers sang and danced their way to the Cape Town International Conference Centre, where a memorandum was handed over to the Minister of Health, Dr Aaron Motsoaledi.

TB/HIV Care’s work was presented in a number of workshops and symposia within the conference itself. TB/HIV Care’s work in correctional services was a particular focus. It was covered during a session looking at novel strategies to end TB where TB/HIV Care’s work to increase TB case-detection and decrease time to treatment was presented as well as in a session co-ordinated by TB/HIV Care CEO, Prof Harry Hausler, and chaired by Mark Dybul, the Executive Director of the Global Fund; “Partnerships between government the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, TB and Malaria and civil society to end TB and HIV in vulnerable populations in South Africa”.

On the final day of the conference, a lively session which focused on key populations ‘speaking out’ was convened by Prof Hausler and was a highlight for many who attended since the lived experience of those who have survived TB was acknowledged.

See photographs of the conference here

Our TB/HIV Care activities can also be viewed on Facebook