July 23, 2014

Decriminalization, Prevention, Human Rights: Sir Richard Branson, Global Drug Commissioner, joins the debate

This press release was issued by the AIDS 2014 Conference Organization and can be found here.

Tuesday July 22, 2014, Melbourne, Australia – Delegates to AIDS 2014, the 20th International AIDS Conference, were told today that decriminalisation of illicit drug use is a key measure for ending HIV transmission around the world.

One of the key sessions discussed the impact of drug policies on people who inject drugs, the spread of HIV and the co-morbidities of tuberculosis and hepatitis. During this session Global Drug Commissioner, Sir Richard Branson, who joined by video link, said the global war on drugs had failed both in terms of drug and public health outcomes, particularly in relation to HIV and hepatitis C, and that the time has come to replace the criminalisation and punishment of drug users with treatment and health care.

“Drug policy reform should not be seen in isolation” Sir Richard Branson said. “It has the potential to affect change in other areas such as the world’s chronically overcrowded penal system or of reducing the negative impact of policing on some communities.

“Globally, we’re using too much money and far too many precious resources on incarceration when we should be spending this money on education, vocational training, and in the case of drug users, on treatment, proper medical care and re-entry.”

Today’s conference activities (Tuesday 22 July) began with plenary presentations about barriers to effective HIV prevention practice. Issues discussed included strengthening health systems (Olive Shisana of South Africa), overcoming gender inequality (Jennifer Gatsi-Mallet of Namibia), and improving financial investments in HIV responses (Mark Dybul, MD of The Global Fund). Day two also included two key symposiums: one addressing youth leadership in the global HIV response; and another focussed on how better engagement with the science of HIV can improve access to HIV treatments.

This afternoon featured a symposium on HIV and sex workers based on work commissioned by the leading medical journal The Lancet. Several other panel discussions also took place on a range of subjects such as: improving the wellbeing of people with HIV by promoting safe drinking water, sanitation and hygiene; the pros and cons of biomedical and scientific advances in HIV prevention technology; and the HIV-related impact of anti-gay laws among men who have sex with men.

This evening, the AIDS 2014 Candlelight Vigil will take place to remember the 35 million people who have been lost as a result of HIV or AIDS related causes, and to celebrate the triumphs of science, medicine, policy and community in the fight against HIV and AIDS. Starting at 6pm at Federation Square, this moving event will take on extra significance as delegates honour the six conference delegates who were killed in the MH17 plane disaster.

The Vigil will follow the AIDS 2014 Conference ‘Mobilisation March’ though Melbourne’s city centre. The Global Village, the conference’s international showcase of community related HIV programmes and activities, will continue to feature a range events including music and dance performances as well as Q&A sessions on young people and sexual health as well as the practice of HIV prevention in disaster and war zones.

All our videos including a daily wrap up from the Global Village are featured on the conference YouTube channel.