Harm reduction, here we go

9558702IT’S BEEN 15 years since I started advocating harm reduction. In the face of strong opposition, South Africa’s Deputy Minister of Social Development, Hendrietta Bogopane-Zulu has made one of the most progressive statements heard on drug policy, at the plenary session of the ’59th Commission on Narcotic Drugs’.

This follows her statement in a side event: ‘Promoting health, human rights and development through a harm reduction approach’. The plenary statement, made on behalf of the African Union, clearly calls for a human rights approach, embraces harm reduction and fully supports drug user networks as well as appropriate service in police stations, hospital and clinics.

The statement issued by the Deputy Minister states: “In accordance with its Plan of Action on Drug Control, which is due for review next year, the African Union emphasises evidence-based responses to drug control to its Member States in order to curb the health and social consequences that drugs cause. Respect for human rights in dealing with the issue of drugs, has been the departure point for the Ministers in Charge of Drug Control as well.”

“For that reason, drug control is clustered alongside health and population matters in the AU Specialised Technical Committee, which also resonates with the African Unionā€™s theme for this year, namely: 2016 the Year of Human Rights with particular reference to the rights of women.”

An AU action plan appears to have been tabled which if adopted requests member states to have available, ā€œComprehensive, accessible, evidence-informed, ethical and human rights based drug use prevention, dependence treatment and after-care servicesā€.

The statement could precede decriminalisation of medical marijuana and recreational cannabis use in South Africa, which under harm reduction policies would be seen as a public health issue rather than a target for the justice system.

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