Over the past 13 months, the world’s sympathy has been extended to the victims of a series of natural disasters, from tsunami to hurricane to the earthquake in South Asia. Many countries, including Nepal, extended generous support to the victims of those catastrophes. However, these events should not divert public attention from the similar tragedy that the people have been compelled to endure and live with for just too long: the failure of the country to adequately support the fight against HIV/AIDS.
According to UNAIDS 2004 report, there are an estimated 60,000 drug users in Nepal and among them approximately 70 per cent are injecting drug users (IDUs). By the same findings, HIV prevalence is 50 per cent among IDUs in the country. Stigma and social discrimination apart, the drug users have long been subjected to forced isolation. Now, the recovering drug users have raised their voice against such prejudice and have demanded greater say in making policies concerning their lot. A group of former drug users, at a conference held in the capital the other day, urged the government, donor agencies and NGOs to “broaden their horizon” while addressing the HIV epidemic.
Since those with powerful experiences are always the best to help guide the IDUs, the recovering drug users’ expert opinion should be sought while running rehabilitation and treatment centres or drafting the policies. They could indeed make a “significant difference,” as they claim, in changing the lives of those addicted to the killer drugs. Towards this end, any effort by NGOs like Recovering Nepal, which seeks to address the problem of HIV among IDUs, is welcome. However, resources must be prudently and evenly distributed so that the victims at the grassroots can benefit from the state-sponsored or donor-funded programmes. Nepal must first make the most out of its own resources while expanding collaboration with the international agencies. This, however, should not deter the authorities concerned from seeking a share from the $3.7 billion recently pledged by the donor nations for the next two years.