In India, it is estimated that there are about 8,50,000 people who inject drugs (PWID) as per the study “Magnitude of Substance Use in India” commissioned by the Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment (2019). High numbers of PWID are estimated in Uttar Pradesh, Punjab, Delhi, Andhra Pradesh, Telangana, Haryana, Karnataka, Maharashtra, Manipur and Nagaland. Opioid group of drugs are predominantly injected by PWID (heroin – 46% and pharmaceutical opioids – 46%). A substantial proportion of PWID report risky injecting practices and are at increased risk of HIV, viral hepatitis and opioid overdose.
Access to prevention, treatment and care services for people affected by substance use disorders is grossly inadequate. Among “people dependent on illicit drugs” as per the report, one among 20 people has ever received inpatient treatment/ hospitalization for help with drug problems. The gap may be wider for other drugs (i.e., narcotics and psychotropic drugs) since they attract criminal sanctions and capacities to ensure a health (includes pharmacological options for management of withdrawals and craving) and community sensitive is very limited in the country. Customized need-based services depending on the clients need and based on science is the need of the hour specially for the subgroups of women, young people, incarcerated populations and the LGBTTQ populations using drugs also.
Alliance India, has been responding to this situation along with its diverse partnership involving champions from the community of people who use drugs, policy makers, implementing partners, law enforcement agencies, state and national government departments and the faith based organisations. The response involves creating an enabling environment for ensuring harm reduction service provision; strengthening community systems to ensure they are self-reliant, promote use of data and evidence for informing, policy, programme and also ensuring financing. Stakeholder management remains a corner stone of this multipronged approach and working with diverse groups a mainstay, to ensure the broader goals of Universal Health Coverage and Human Rights is achieved by maintaining the momentum and focus also on HIV 90:90:90 targets. Faith based organisations and champions are playing a very important role in these processes.
Alliance India is working jointly with the United Religions Initiative – a global grassroots interfaith network is working together to leverage the opportunities for strengthening responses including i.e., harm reduction and HIV prevention amongst PWID. A state of the art manual on harm reduction for the faith based organisations is in its final stages of development under the Alliance India, URI and interfaith partnership. This manual will be the first of its kind in the world on harm reduction and aims to improve understanding on harm reduction, health and human rights concerns of people who use drugs and for removing stigma by the interfaith community.
There is already a body of evidence that explain the influence of faith-based organizations on masses and how their engagement can improve health and development outcomes. Organizations and faith leaders are a crucial resource for their community to provide education, increase awareness of drug use and issues of people using drugs, and to provide support in connecting congregation members to resources in the community for help, along with facilitating a positive attitude among masses towards people using drugs.
Taking this partnership forward; Alliance India in partnership with URI is commemorating this year’s World Drug Day i.e., June 26, 2020; by engaging faith based leaders in the global #SupportDontPunish Campaign (SDP). The campaign’s yearly high point is the Global Day of Action i.e., June 26, which brings together stakeholders through public events, campaign, dialogue and/or rallies involving community representatives, government, development partners, law makers, media and faith based organizations. Since this year has been particularly challenging for the marginalized communities given the added context of COVID 19 and demands that the SDP campaign address local issues that are affecting the community on priority; Alliance India and URI with support from UNAIDS – Regional Support Team (Asia) and the Global Fund partnered with the high-ranking faith based leaders and organisations to develop and launch a “Public Service Announcement” (PSA) titled #Faith4HarmReduction in support of the harm reduction efforts, promote a humane and public health based approach and with an appeal to the larger world to commit themselves to the community’s cause of “Support….Don’t Punish” !