Jakarta beats: Harm reduction advocacy in Asia

Community advocates from China, Cambodia, Vietnam, Malaysia, Indonesia and India get together to increase the evidence and build support for harm reduction in Asia.

By Olga Golichenko, Senior Adviser: Harm Reduction Advocacy, Asia Action on Harm Reduction project

It is late at night in Jakarta and we are in the famous Stadium nightclub together with colleagues from Alliance Linking organisation, Rumah Cemara, and the Indonesian Network of People who Use Drugs (PKNI).

These are our hosts for a regional meeting of partners in the Asia Action on Harm Reduction project funded by the European Union. After a successful meeting, it was time to dance to the beats, get flashbacks from the week’s rewarding experience and…reflect.

United voices

The first thing that stood out for me at the meeting was seeing the growing commitment and expertise of the Policy Managers themselves – Achiel from Indonesia (our host!), Fifa from Malaysia, Reaksmey from Cambodia, Simon from India, Slate from China and Thanh from Vietnam (see picture). Over the last year, their expertise in being able to articulate clear advocacy asks and guide each other on the use of advocates’ diaries (to capture data about the on-going work and perceived progress) and other monitoring and evaluation tools is outstanding.

As they shared their individual experiences of high level political influencing; use of evidence for advocacy; mobilisation of people who use drugs; what it’s like to work with the police, prison authorities and media, we were joined by a number of international colleagues. Gloria from International Drugs Policy Consortium, Claudia from Harm Reduction International, as well as Ebbe and Sally from PKNI.

What is clear is though we are different, we are at the same time similar in our commitment to improve the lives of people who use drugs in our countries.

Our united voice about the value of harm reduction was most palpable when Policy Managers from different countries presented themselves one after another to prison, drug control authorities and colleagues from the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) during our field trips.

Discussion highlights

AIDS Care China’s achievement in introducing naloxone (which prevents overdose) as part of their community harm reduction programmes in Yunnan and Sichuan provinces. Also piloting ‘take home’ methadone (substitution therapy medicine) in Yuxi City, which for the first time in China’s history allows people who inject drugs to get several days’ supply of the medicine. This allows them to get on with finding jobs and other day-to-day commitments. 

Malaysian AIDS Council’s success in uniting parliamentarians and high level officials around discussions about drug policy reform.

Looking ahead

The project is set to continue until 2016. We agreed our priorities for 2014 would include ongoing global advocacy on harm reduction aimed at the Association of Southeast Asian Nations and the Commission on Narcotic Drugs, as well as specific national advocacy targets.

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