Tuesday, February 27, 2007

I *heart* Stephen Lewis

UN agency hampers AIDS fight: Stephen Lewis

Feb 27, 2007 03:18 PM
Michelle Nichols

UNITED NATIONS – The U.N. drug control watchdog is hindering efforts to fight the global AIDS pandemic and the agency should be independently reviewed, human rights groups and a former U.N. AIDS envoy said Tuesday.

The Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network, the Open Society Institute and Stephen Lewis, a former U.N. special envoy for AIDS in Africa, accused the 13-member International Narcotics Control Board of enforcing drug policies that ignore public health.

"If I had it in my grasp I would take them out behind the international woodshed and give them an intellectual and rhetorical flogging, the like of which they would never forget," Lewis told a news conference.

A report by the groups said one third of HIV infections outside of Africa were caused by injection drug use and while the U.N. board acknowledged drug use was accelerating the spread of the disease in some countries, it failed to encourage any preventive action.

The report, "Closed to Reason," said the International Narcotics Control Board, established in 1968, had not only ignored the public health implications of drug use, but discredited "effective programs" such as sterile syringe exchanges and the use of methadone as an addiction treatment.

"It's as though the HIV/AIDS conjunction has passed the International Narcotics Control Board right by," Lewis said. "They are aligning themselves with the virus rather than opposing it determinedly."

Lewis, a Canadian, also told of how while he was former U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan's special envoy on AIDS in Africa between 2001 and 2006, he voiced support for safe drug injection rooms.

He said the control board complained to Annan about his comments. "The fact that they would write a letter attempting to silence a critic is a demonstration of how out of control the International Narcotics Control Board is," Lewis said.

The Vienna-based International Narcotics Control Board (INCB) is an independent judicial body elected by U.N. members that monitors the implementation of international drug control conventions. A spokesman was not available for comment.

Nearly 40 million adults and children in 2006 lived with HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, with more than 25 million in Africa alone, U.N. figures show.

"Millions at risk of HIV in Eastern Europe and Asia can benefit from drug policy that works in tandem with public health," said Daniel Wolfe, deputy director of the Open Society Institute's international harm reduction development program.

"Alleviation of human suffering is one portion of the international conventions that the INCB has done strikingly little to uphold," he said.

No comments: