Health and rights crisis of people who use drugs and their families in the Philippines

I must continue to raise the issue of criminalisation of people who use drugs and its impact on the AIDS response in the Asia region. I take this opportunity to highlight the recent happenings in the Philippines. As I recall, the Mayor and other government officials made somewhat progressive remarks at the Cities event, while now the words ‘Philippines President Calls on Civilians to Kill Drug Addicts’ and “If you know of any addicts, go ahead and kill them yourself as getting their parents to do it would be too painful”,  simply shock. The Philippines’ president is asking civilians to murder drug addicts in the island nation — adding to a growing list of outrageous actions from the newly elected official.

However, the Philippines at the UN is remarkably different. On 9th March 2015, at the UNGASS Special Segment meeting, the Philippines in its official statement recognised the vital role of cooperation in implementing drug strategies, “On demand reduction, we promote prevention, education, treatment and rehab, by involving communities and conducting capacity building programmes on substance use, in collaboration with UNODC.” On 19th April 2016, at the UNGASS Roundtable 1 on Demand reduction and related measures, the Philippines in its official statement spoke of the dilemma in terms of balancing the fight against illegal drugs operations and focusing on health as well as the need to establish more alliances by sharing best practices. On 20th April 2016, at the UN General Assembly: Thirtieth Special Session of the General Assembly on the World Drug Problem (3rd plenary meeting), the Philippines in its official statement did not support capital punishment for drug offences and that it was happy to report on progress of treatment and rehabilitation of drug users and anti-drug plan of action until 2020.

As recently as at the Sixty-Ninth World Health Assembly 23-28 May 2016, the Executive Board recommended the adoption of the draft global health sector strategies for HIV, 2016–2021. Enshrined in this document lie probable solutions to the crisis affecting the lives of people who use drugs and their families: Para 26 seeks to overturn laws and change policies that marginalize and stigmatize populations; Para 67 is explicit on Harm reduction for people who inject drugs; Para 86 is grounded in an enabling environment that promotes health equity and human rights; Para 105 recommends enforcing laws and policies that eliminate gender inequality, protect and promote human rights and reduce vulnerability to and risk of HIV infection; Para 106 reminds us that HIV programmes have an important role in monitoring policies, laws and regulations in other sectors to determine their possible implications for the HIV and broader health response, and where barriers exist to advocate for appropriate reviews and reforms to ensure pro-health outcomes. The Government of the Philippines participated in the adoption of this document.

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