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‘Social evils’ and harm reduction: the evolving policy environment for human immunodeficiency virus prevention among injection drug users in China and Vietnam

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Abstract:

ABSTRACT Aims 

This paper reviews the evolution of government policies in China and Vietnam regarding harm reduction interventions for human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) prevention, such as needle/syringe provision and opioid substitution treatment. Methods 

The work is based upon the authors' experiences in and observations of these policy developments, as well as relevant government policy documents and legislation. Results 

Both countries are experiencing HIV epidemics driven by injection drug use and have maintained generally severe policies towards injection drug users (IDUs). In recent years, however, they have also officially endorsed harm reduction. We sought to understand how and why this apparently surprising policy evolution took place. Factors associated with growing support for harm reduction were similar but not identical in China and Vietnam. These included the emergence of effective ‘champions’ for such policies, an ethos of pragmatism and receptivity to evidence, growing collaboration across public health, police and other sectors, the influence of contingent events such as the severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) epidemic and pressure from donors and international organizations to adopt best practice in HIV prevention. Conclusions 

Ongoing challenges and lessons learned include the persistence of tensions between drug control and harm reduction that may have negative effects on programs until a fully harmonized policy environment is established. Excessive reliance on law enforcement and forced detoxification will not solve the problems of substance abuse or of HIV among drug users. Ongoing evaluation of harm reduction programs, as well as increased levels of multi-sectoral training, collaboration and support are also needed.

Keywords: China; HIV prevention; Vietnam; harm reduction; injection drug users; policy

Document Type: Research Report

DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1111/j.1360-0443.2007.02053.x

Affiliations: 1: National Center for AIDS/STD Control and Prevention, Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention, Beijing, China, 2: Health Policy Initiative, Hanoi, Vietnam, 3: Guangxi Center for HIV/AIDS Prevention and Control, Nanning, China, 4: Consultant to Lang Son Provincial Health Service, Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam and 5: Beth Israel Medical Center, New York, NY, USA

Publication date: January 1, 2008

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