Despite a decline in new HIV infections globally, a UN report launched on Wednesday highlights that nearly all people who inject drugs live in countries that do not provide suitable harm-reduction service coverage, meaning they are denied adequate access to essential health services.
"UNAIDS is greatly concerned about the lack of progress for people who inject drugs, which is due to the failure of many countries to implement evidence-informed, human rights-based approaches to drug use," said Michel Sidibé, Executive Director of UNAIDS, the UN agency dedicated to combat the virus.
The new UNAIDS report, Health, rights and drugs: harm reduction, decriminalization and zero discrimination for people who use drugs, shows that of the 10.6 million who injected drugs in 2016, more than half were living with hepatitis C and one-in-eight with HIV.
Among other things, comprehensive harm reduction services, such as needle–syringe programmes, drug dependence treatment and HIV testing and treatment would "kick-start progress on stopping new HIV infections among people who use drugs", says the report.
"By putting people at the centre and ensuring that they have access to health and social services with dignity and without discrimination or criminalization," Mr Sidibé said, "lives can be saved and new HIV infections drastically reduced".
Few UN Member States have lived up to an agreement made at the 2016 Special Session on the World Drug Problem, to establish effective measures for people who use drugs, according to the agency.
UNAIDS advocates for the full engagement of civil society as an essential source of information and advocacy, especially in places where repressive policies and practices are the norms.
The organization also promotes human rights and health services, targeting harm reduction and HIV services, community-led responses and the removal of drug- and HIV-related stigmas and discrimination.