This IFRC Health Advocacy Report depicts the stark reality of what it means to be an injecting drug user and living with HIV. It examines the prevention, treatment, care and support needs of this most at-risk population and the IFRC’s response to their plight. It also offers National Societies and the reader an advocacy tool that can be used for years to come. The aim? To remind governments and National Societies of the obligation to respect the human rights of injecting drug users at risk of, or living with, HIV. Although our focus is global, we place a special emphasis on Eastern Europe and Central Asia where the situation is becoming increasingly dire.


  • Part 1: we discuss about the magnitude of the problem with an at-a-glance situation analysis.
  • Part 2: we outline our advocacy messages that address the inhumane conditions injecting drug users and their families all too often find themselves trapped in—gravely ill, stigmatized and alone.
  • Part 3: we summarize the Red Cross and Red Crescent’s harm reduction response which is based on the 2003 ‘Spreading the light of science’ guidelines on injecting drug use.
  • Part 4: we explore how all stakeholders can work together to adjust policies, establish programmes and reduce harm among some of the world’s most disenfranchised and disadvantaged populations.



  • Harm reduction refers to a range of pragmatic and evidence-based public health policies and practices aimed at reducing the negative consequences associated with drug use and other related risk factors such as HIV and AIDS. These interventions exemplify human rights in action by seeking to alleviate hazards faced by the injecting drug users, where needed, without distinction and without judgement. The IFRC advocates harm reduction for one very simple reason: It works.
  • The United Nations estimates that approximately 15.9 million people living in 148 countries regularly inject drugs. Known as injecting drug users, these individuals are particularly vulnerable to HIV, Hepatitis C and B infections owing to risky behaviours such as sharing syringes and needles, unsafe sex practices and a general lack of health-seeking behaviour. Worldwide, an estimated three million injecting drug users are now living with HIV.
  • Injecting drug use thus constitutes a serious public health concern that can only be addressed through the rational application of nonmoralistic public health interventions that emphasize harm reduction programming over punishment and censure.
  • In this context, the IFRC recommends that scientific evidence and a humanitarian spirit should guide the HIV response. Injecting drug users, who routinely face harassment, stigmatization, violence and social exclusion, require not only care but compassion as well. Stigma only further marginalizes already vulnerable individuals and directly impedes efforts to halt the spread of HIV. Reducing marginalization also reduces the transmission of HIV and other infectious diseases.


Usage: Advocacy tool

Audience:  National Society staff and volunteers

See alsoGuidelines on harm reduction related to injecting drug use: Spreading the light of science

Document Data

Author: IFRC
Publication date: December 1, 2010
Status: Final Type: PDF Size (MB): Size: 3.2
Country: Global
Resource type: Guidelines, Report

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