Championing Health-Oriented Drug Policies and Solutions

Empowering Change: Insights from the 5th Expert Group Meeting on Harm Reduction

The 5th Expert Group Meeting held virtually in September 2023, served as a global platform initiating conversations on health-oriented drug policies.

In the current year, the GPDPD on behalf of the Federal Ministry of Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ) and under the political patronage of the German Federal Government's Commissioner for Drug and Addiction Policy in collaboration with the Office of the Narcotics Control Board of Thailand (ONCB), Harm Reduction International (HRI) and the International Drug Policy Consortium (IDPC), convened nearly 60 representatives from government agencies, civil society, and research institutions from across geographical boundaries and time zones.


The event highlighted the 2023 report titled “Human rights challenges in addressing and countering all aspects of the world drug problem” from the United Nations (UN) High Commissioner for Human Rights. The report powerfully underlines the central role of harm reduction and accessible drug treatment in safeguarding the fundamental right to health of people who use drugs.


The first part of the meeting focused on the pressing issue of viral hepatitis. The World Health Organization (WHO) provided valuable insights into the prevalence of hepatitis B and C among people who use drugs. The Global Health Sector Strategy, endorsed by the WHO, not only set the course for the elimination of viral hepatitis, but also laid out a visionary framework for achieving this ambitious goal.


Turning to grassroots examples, a showcase from Manipur, India, shared with participants evidence-based approaches and local community collaborations. While acknowledging the progress in addressing HIV and hepatitis C in the Asia-Pacific region, the key message emphasized a shift in focus to hepatitis B. Government representatives from Nigeria, Germany, and Egypt shared insights into their ground-breaking screening and treatment initiatives for viral hepatitis C and B. The speakers provided further perspectives on the total costs of treatment services.


The second part of the meeting immersed attendees in examples of harm reduction policies across various nations. Germany highlighted the approach of drug checking services and how these operate within the legal framework. Scotland's relentless commitment to tackling the overdose crisis became evident, prioritizing Naloxone distribution, comprehensive training programmes for paramedics and police officers, and the establishment of state-of-the-art supervised consumption facilities.


The event drew inspiration from the transformative experiences of organizations in New York in the USA and Bogotá in Colombia. These pioneers presented innovative approaches to harm reduction, emphasizing holistic wellness services that go beyond traditional methods, from showers and clothing to mental health. The further discussion touched on the role of indigenous-led and decolonising approaches in harm reduction and drug policy interventions


In reflection, the 5th Expert Group Meeting managed to merge global expertise and pragmatic solutions – a vibrant arena where both the diverse contexts and the complexity of the responses to viral hepatitis and global overdose crises were acknowledged and addressed. Launched in 2016, this forum has undeniably grown in significance and influence, firmly establishing its vital role in the global dialogue on harm reduction.