AIDS 2018: Substance Use News

Last week we published a glance at the 22nd International AIDS Conference, AIDS 2018. This week I went looking for information on sessions, reports or information that could help people who use drugs, and the people who support them. Here is a sampling.


As background, people who use drugs were acknowledged back in the 1990s after a moving speech by John Mourdant. In Drugs and Harm Reduction at the International AIDS Conferences, an ICASO blogger notes:

It was not until the 1993 AIDS conference in Berlin that a person who uses drugs openly living with HIV was given the opportunity to address a plenary of the International AIDS Conference. That was John Mourdant, who repeatedly used the refrain in his plenary address “There is no war on drugs. There is and always has been a war on drug users.” The HIV response, and subsequent International AIDS Conferences, have been more inclusive of people who use drugs and more supportive of their concerns and harm reduction issues since 1993 and John’s speech.

The ICASO blog has some great links to other resources, including the session below, Drugs, drug policy, harm reduction: A reality check.  It also directed people to the Harm Reduction Zone that was available at AIDS 2018, a good thing to know for those who might go to an International AIDS conference in the future.


“There is no war on drugs. There is and always has been a war on drug users.”



Drugs, drug policy, harm reduction: A reality check

The description of this symposia session on Wednesday July 25th began with “A reality check in an area where the AIDS response is failing and is meeting with political, structural, and societal challenges.” From the rapporteur’s notes:

“It is not people who use drugs who are broken, but the systems that fail to address their needs” (Judy Chang, INPUD). The AIDS response is failing people who use drugs. HIV transmission increased by one third between 2011 and 2015, while global targets were aiming at reducing transmission by 50%. Funding is just 13% of the 1.5 billion that UNAIDS estimates is needed annually. The session tried to answer why.

Read about the session and the Rapporteur Summary


Breaking barriers of inequity in the HIV response

In this plenary on Tuesday July 24th, one section focused on Exploring innovation around HIV and substance use.  Dr. Anna Deryabina of Columbia University presented Optimizing HIV Prevention and Treatment Outcomes for Persons with Substance Use, which looked at global perspective on drug use and the intersection of HIV. In Exploring Innovation Around HIV and Substance Use, Olena Stryzhak issued calls to action on community engagement, gendered responses in drug policies, harm reduction and funding.

SLIDES: Optimizing HIV Prevention and Treatment Outcomes for Persons with Substance Use

SLIDES: Exploring Innovation Around HIV and Substance Use 


Harm reduction: I can’t get no satisfaction

This Oral Abstract session on Tuesday July 24th presented abstracts from different countries. Topics included drug consumption rooms, HIV prevention among people who inject drugs, adherence and substitution therapy programs. Summarist Sandra Hsu Hnin Mon wrote, “Key recommendations include increasing resources towards harm reduction services, establishing support systems to empower and engage those seeking services; and incorporating HCV programs into existing harm reduction initiatives.”

Read about the session and Rapporteur Summary


‘Nothing about us without us’: Advancing human rights for key populations

The “Nothing About Us Without Us” movement is facing both external and internal challenges. From continued violations of their basic human rights, to rising levels of internalized self-deprecation, key populations and other marginalized groups are pressing for increased self-representation, more inclusion, and greater sensitivity to their specific needs. The session focused on the current struggles and challenges of key and vulnerable populations in advancing human rights and legal reform agendas.

Read the entire Rapporteur Summary from Sandra Hsu Hnin Mon


Digging Deeper

You can explore the sessions from AIDS 2018 yourself. Here’s the program link. I plugged harm reduction into the search bar, and here is the list of Harm Reduction sessions that resulted. You also might want to look at these (expect some repetition):

Results of people who use drugs search

Results of drug policy search




Questions? Feedback? Get in touch! Janet Madsen, Capacity Building  and Knowledge Translation Coordinator, [email protected]