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Witnesses to the Pandemic: How People Who Use Drugs are Shaping the Pandemic Treaty

Friday – 17 March, Vienna: INPUD will launch a ground-breaking report titled “Pandemic Preparedness and Response: Voices of People who use Drugs” at the 66th Session of the Commission on Narcotic Drugs (CND66).

The report highlights, our experiences as people who use drugs from different regions, including Africa, the Americas, Europe, and Southeast Asia. Our members speak about how our marginalisation resulted in us dealing with not just one pandemic but multiple simultaneous pandemics of HIV, HCV, and COVID-19.  

“In Nigeria, India, and Kenya, participants described how restrictions on movement prevented people living with HIV and affected by TB from accessing treatment. With global supply chains disrupted, some countries lacked essential medicines; others hoarded their supplies, causing stockouts. For example, in Costa Rica, one participant described a lack of antiretroviral treatment, and noted that the Minister of Health had said all available funding had gone to the COVID-19 response. In Australia, many services the community relied on – such as public showers, meals, and other basic needs — were shut down during COVID-19”.

Pandemic Preparedness and Response: Voices of People who use Drugs.

The COVID-19 pandemic has exposed the vulnerabilities and gaps in the global health system, including the inadequate response to the needs of people who use drugs. As people who used drugs we have been marginalised, subjected to social stigma, discrimination, and criminalisation, making it difficult for us to access health services and support.  

“The COVID-19 pandemic created a unique set of challenges for us. We conducted research on the experiences of our members to gain insight into how they responded to the pandemic. This research provides critical evidence for the development of more effective and tailored policies and services to support us as people who use drugs. With this information, we hope that governments can make informed decisions about how best to serve us as a community.”

Judy Chang, Executive Director of INPUD.   

The voices of people who use drugs need to be heard in the Pandemic Treaty and wider global governance processes to ensure that our rights are protected, and our needs are met in future emergencies. It is time for the global community to recognise and value our expertise and contributions. The community led report covers some of the innovative responses that showed agility in our community. Despite the disproportionate impacts, our community responded with unprecedented peer-based mobilisation, solidarity, and innovation.  

“The lessons learned from the HIV epidemic and response efforts had prepared many community groups with the experience and knowledge necessary to mobilise quickly and provide services. Community-led organisations started peer-led harm reduction services, sharing health information, providing mental health and psychosocial support, and linking peers to services.” 

Pandemic Preparedness and Response: Voices of People who use Drugs.  

To ensure meaningful participation of marginalised communities in the pandemic treaty negotiations, we must be involved in all stages of the process, from the development of the agenda to the finalisation of the treaty. We also ask for structural barriers to be removed and for the recognition of community systems strengthening as integral to health system preparedness. We call for the creation of a safe and inclusive space for our participation, that we be provided with the necessary information and resources and ensuring that our views are considered. 

While community-led organisations and services were the lifeblood of pandemic response efforts for the community of people who use drugs, we often remained underfunded. In most regions, our members described the crucial need for sustainable financing to ensure peer-led organisations have the capacity to respond in an emergency like the COVID-19 pandemic.   

“You need to have strong drug user networks established and present, because we step up when it matters. We have the capacity and knowledge to respond, but we are so poorly funded compared to professional drug services.”  

Pandemic Preparedness and Response: Voices of People who use Drugs

Our research report offers clear, evidence-based recommendations that will help guide us as we work for the inclusion of our community in this conversation. We collect and analyse data from our members around the world, allowing us to provide policymakers with actionable insights that should shape the policies that will impact our lives“.

Judy Chang, Executive Director of INPUD.   


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