Towards health-oriented drug policy in Myanmar: A study visit to the Netherlands and Germany
From 16th to 22nd of September a group of Myanmar governmental representatives visited the Netherlands and Germany for an exchange on public health-oriented approaches in drug policy, which was jointly organised by GPDPD and TNI. Myanmar sent representatives from the Myanmar Ministry of Health and Sport, the Ministry of Social Welfare, Relief and Resettlement, the Central Committee for Drug Abuse and Control (CCDAC) as well as government representatives from Kachin State.
Focusing on public health-oriented drug policy approaches, the study visit programme included a range of services and institutions that promote and implement Harm Reduction measures with the aim of reducing the adverse individual and societal effects of drug use. The Myanmar representatives visited not only a low-threshold counselling centre and a hospital specialised in the care of drug users in Leipzig as well as a drug consumption room in Amsterdam, but also the facilities of a diamorphine-based drug substitution programme in Berlin. In order to put the visit into perspective, experts from the European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction (EMCDDA), Switzerland and Portugal, from the German government as well as from the Amsterdam city administration further provided the participants with a broad overview of health-oriented approaches in Europe.
Myanmar only recently changed its drug law and introduced a new National Drug Control Policy with support of UNODC. Harm Reduction is now recognised as a valid concept in the law, and its application is even recommended in the national drug strategy. However, the implementation of Harm Reduction measures remains a challenging process, partly due to the high stigmatisation of drug users in Myanmar.
During the reflection of the study visit, the government representatives from Myanmar stated that they understood that a problematic drug user is not a mere criminal but a person in need of help and support. In weighing different measures of dealing with drug users, they favoured the human-centred approach and low-threshold services such as night shelters or mobile street work offers – services which might in the future as well be introduced in Myanmar. The participants also mentioned that they recognised the need for an integrated drug policy approach, bringing together different actors from the field of health policy, the police, communities, the social welfare system and rehabilitation programmes as well as civil society and international actors.