There is increasing evidence to prove that harsh laws and policies against drug use in India stifle the country's HIV response, experts said Tuesday.
"Unsafe injection practices along with low condom use are putting people who inject drugs at dual risk for HIV. We can only successfully intervene and reach those vulnerable and most at risk if we proactively address existing legal and policy barriers," James Robertson, executive director, India HIV/AIDS Alliance, said at a national consultation on the disease here.
The national consultation was organized by the India HIV/AIDS Alliance and the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime to discuss the emerging challenges faced by India's drug-using communities.
Oscar Fernandes, convener, forum of parliamentarians on HIV/AIDS, said: "Enhanced collaboration between government, civil society and affected communities can ensure rights and health for people who use drugs, and we are committed for it".
Urging the government to meaningfully involve the community and protect their rights, Abou Mere, president, Indian Drug Users' Forum and a leading activist, said: "Drug users are dying due to lack of treatment and care for Hepatitis C and overdose. Families are burdened with expensive de-addiction and rehabilitation options".
Worldwide 16 million people are estimated to inject drugs, and three million of them are living in HIV. In India, HIV prevalence in this group is 24-times that of the general population.
Though progress has been made, the HIV epidemic continues to be fueled by the stigma and discrimination often experienced by drug users.
Susie Maclean of international HIV/AIDS Alliance, said that the Indian government has to ensure that drug users are not end of the line as far as interventions are concerned.
In India, the lack of access to services can effectively be a death sentence for people who inject drugs. While some parts of the country, especially the northeast, have developed a range of services for this vulnerable population, most other states have few if any such services.