By Anan Pun
JUNE 2007 • Issue 5
Anan Pun is the Chairperson of Recovering Nepal, a network of local drug user activist organizations throughout the Asian country of Nepal. He can be reached at ananpun (at) gmail.com.
I am an activist from Nepal, one of the poorest developing countries in the world, where HIV is growing explosively among injection drug users, sex workers, migrants and transgender people, and also in the general population. In a country of 2.3 million people, there are an estimated 200,000 drug users.
In Nepal, syringe exchange and maintenance therapy (with buprenorphine) are legal, and harm reduction has remained the mainstay of the Ministry of Health’s national program for injection drug users. However, the program only reaches 8.6% of drug users, according to a composite program reach index. HIV prevalence among injection drug users has gone up to 68 percent, from less than one percent in 1995. For harm reduction to be effective, people who need syringe exchange and other services must have access to them, and the government needs to fully support the program. There has been much conflict between the Ministry of Health and the Home Ministry, which is responsible for security and the war on drugs.
Recovering Nepal was founded in 2001 by an energetic group of active drug users and ex-users, including women and people living with HIV and hepatitis C. Our goal was to combat blood-borne diseases and drug-related harm. It began with a series of workshops, during which drug users had an opportunity to share their experiences, reflect on their feelings, observations and insights, and learn from each other. Now, we have 17 employees, 3,000 individual members, and more than 50 member organizations in different regions of the country. I have been working with Recovering Nepal since the beginning.
Most members of the executive board are ex-users or active users. Since May 2003, Recovering Nepal has served as a strong network of committed people who are helping to address stigma and discrimination, raising our voices to promote basic rights, lobbying and advocating for policy change, and increasing quality access to affordable, comprehensive treatment and care for drug users who are living with HIV and hepatitis C. Currently, Recovering Nepal is focused on training new grassroots leaders in the local drug users’ groups.
Since we held a protest at its headquarters on May 11, the Ministry of Health has said it is ready to involve organizations of drug users, men who have sex with men, sex workers, and HIV positive people in its Global AIDS Fund application and planning process. The Global Fund has denied grants to Nepal because these democratic reforms are needed. But we can see now that our protest has had an impact, and the situation will get better.