Browsing Category: Southern Initiatives

The United Nations, HIV, and the Law

by Robert BB Childs, MPH, Executive Director
North Carolina Harm Reduction Coalition (NCHRC)

Childs-Presenting-at-UNDPRecently I and my colleague Deon Haywood, Executive Director of Women with a Vision (WWAV) were invited to present at the Global Commission on HIV and the Law, sponsored by the United Nations Development Program, which is one of the cosponsors of UNAIDS, on September 16th and 17th, 2011.

The Global Commission on HIV and the Law interrogated the relationship between legal responses, human rights and HIV. The Commission also focused on some of the most challenging legal and human rights issues in the context of HIV, including criminalization of HIV transmission, behaviors and practices such as drug use, sex work, same-sex sexual relations, and issues of prisoners, migrants, children’s rights, violence against women and access to treatment. The Global Commission on HIV and the Law is developing actionable, evidence-informed and human rights-based recommendations for effective HIV responses that protect and promote the human rights of people living with and most vulnerable to HIV.

According to UNDP HIV Practice Director Jeffrey O’Malley, “The law and its application can have an impact on the lives of people, especially those who are marginalized and disempowered. The law is a powerful instrument to challenge stigma, promote public health, and protect human rights. We know that the laws and policies of High Income countries also affect developing countries. We have much to learn from the positive and negative experiences in high income countries on the interactions between the law, legislative reform, law enforcement practices, and public health responses.”

My presentation focused on how drug paraphernalia laws in North Carolina lead to the spread of HIV, hepatitis, sex work, incarceration and poverty.  Deon presented on the negative effects of the Louisiana Prison Industrial Complex, as well as how negative laws against sex workers lead to the spread of HIV.  Both NCHRC and WWV were mentioned in the final testimony by UNDP HIV Practice Director & UNAIDS Representative Jeffrey O’Malley for their fine work in the face of adversity.  The members of the group were deeply touched by NCHRC’s & WWV’s testimonies and were saddened on hear about the lack of services and legal barriers against the people most vulnerable to HIV infection in the South.  Also attending the meeting was Congresswomen Barbara Lee, Congressman Jim McDermott, members of the UN, members of the Danish, Austrian, German & Canadian Parliament and many other HIV experts.

Responding on behalf of the Global Commission on HIV and the Law, Congresswoman Barbara Lee (D) of Oakland, a Commissioner stated “the effectiveness of the global HIV response will depend not just on the scale up of HIV prevention, treatment and care, but on whether the legal and social environment support or hinder programs for those who are most vulnerable. This requires bold and effective legal and policy measures to reach out to vulnerable communities and individuals at risk. The Bipartisan Congressional HIV/AIDS Caucus, which I co-chair will deal with these very issues.”

For more info on the commission go to:
http://www.hivlawcommission.org/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=64&Itemid=70&lang=en

Reducing Harm and Building Communities: Addressing Drug Use in the South

by Robert BB Childs, MPH, Executive Director, North Carolina Harm Reduction Coalition (NCHRC)
and
Melicia Laroco-Molter, member, NCHRC

Harm-reduction-group-shot

On September 8th and 9th, 2011, around 200 people from all corners of the South converged in Durham, NC for the first conference to discuss issues surrounding drug use, sex work and harm reduction in their communities. The attendees represented many groups including representatives of the military, law enforcement, Republicans and Democrats the North Carolina House of Representatives, outreach workers, health professionals, academics, sex workers, people of transgender experience and drug users. The conference kicked off with a blessing from Rev Dr. Tamsey Philips Hill, a chaplain at Duke University Hospital and a staff member of Partners in Care of the Carolinas. Deon Haywood of New Orleans’ Women with a Vision and Robert Childs of the North Carolina Harm Reduction Coalition led an overview of the conference.

Rep. Verla Insko (D-56) touched upon her experience as a health program administrator at the University of North Carolina as she spoke about the need for more harm reduction practices in North Carolina and throughout the South. Rep. Glen Bradley (R-49), an admirer of Fredrick Douglass’ vision of the Constitution, then spoke about the need for political advocacy for syringe decriminalization and the lack of effectiveness of the war on drugs. Daniel Raymond, the Policy Director of the Harm Reduction Coalition, then gave an eloquent overview of harm reduction. Daniel spoke about those that touted the idea “if they [drug users] don’t want to get HIV, it’s just that simple – stop using drugs.” Noting their ignorance of drug use, he pointed out the true meaning: “If you are using drugs, you’re life isn’t worth saving.” Harm reduction, in effect, shows people, “[r]ight here, right now, your life is worth saving.”

Several testimonials followed. Perry Parks, a Vietnam War veteran, recipient of the Distinguished Flying Cross, and current President of the North Carolina Cannabis Patients’ Network, recounted his experiences with chronic pain and pain management through the use of cannabis, and his subsequent loss of his hard-won military reputation. Bob Scott, a former captain of the Macon County Sherriff’s Office in Franklin, NC, described his experiences with the war on drugs in rural North Carolina. Patrick Packer of the Southern AIDS Coalition, testified to the lack of attention and services given to Southerners living with HIV/AIDS. Leigh Maddox, a retired captain of the Maryland State Police and current Special Assistant State’s Attorney for the State of Maryland, gave a deeply personal testimonial on how her own personal and professional losses to the war on drugs fueled her advocacy to view substance abuse as a health problem and her anti-prohibition stance. In addition, Human Rights Watch released an in-depth report on the status of human rights and HIV in the Southern United States, which will be released on their website soon.

Video of the opening session of the conference can be found here, compliments of Richard Cassidy.

This provided an inspiring platform for the rest of conference. The panels ranged from building alliances with law enforcement and faith-based communities to fundraising and program implementation to the rising use of crack cocaine and prescription drugs in the South. Prof. Sam MacMaster of the University of Tennessee’s College of Social Work highlighted the high prevalence of crack cocaine use in the South and how it intersects with HIV/AIDS. The conference provided, not just a learning experience, but also as a place to meet others in the South that are working on the same issues. Many participants are from organizations that are not based in the hubs of Atlanta, New Orleans, Durham or DC and often do not meet others in the field. As one participant pointed out, “Finally, I do not feel alone.”

North Carolina Harm Reduction Coalition (NCHRC) Gains Support of Local Law Enforcement

Organization Unites with Local Law Enforcement & Injection Drug Users to Fight for Syringe Decriminalization and Syringe Exchange Programs (SEPs)

by Robert BB Childs, MPH
Executive Director
North Carolina Harm Reduction Coalition (NCHRC)

North Carolina Harm Reduction Coalition (NCHRC) has been able to advocate for syringe decriminalization and the legalization of syringe exchange programs thanks to grants from AIDS United. NCHRC is North Carolina’s only comprehensive harm reduction program.  NCHRC engages in grassroots advocacy, resource development, coalition building and direct services for those made vulnerable by drug use, sex work, overdose, immigration status, gender, STIs, HIV and hepatitis.

In solidarity with law enforcement and Injection Drug Users (IDUs), NCHRC has been advocating for saner syringe access laws.  North Carolina has an estimated 25,000-50,000 IDUs, restrictive syringe access laws and no legal Syringe Exchange Programs; this has contributed to over 35,000 HIV infections and over 150,000 hepatitis C infections due to syringe and injection equipment sharing.

Though NC boasts 5 underground syringe exchange programs spread throughout the state in the Triangle, Winston Salem, Carrboro, Greensboro and Asheville, they cannot come close to meeting the population’s needs due to legal and financial barriers. Unfortunately for NC, this has led to “one in three” law enforcement officers receiving accidental needle-sticks over their careers. In NC, it is illegal to carry syringes or injection equipment to inject drugs, therefore users share equipment and do not inform law enforcement if they are carrying equipment.  This leaves law enforcement prone to needlesticks when they perform mandatory pat downs by accidentally touching the syringe tips. Complicating matters, law enforcement are not given needlestick resistant gloves as standard issue due to budget cuts, thus they have no protection from needlesticks.  When injured by the needle, they may have to receive expensive post exposure prophylaxis, which leads to sick time, a loss of income to the department , loss of labor and possible HIV and hepatitis infection to the officer.

Twenty-eight percent of NC law enforcement will receive multiple sticks over their career, which recently happened to an officer in Kannapolis, NC. In response to this health concern, some law enforcement have joined NCHRC’s syringe decriminalization advocacy movement, due to the overwhelming evidence that syringe decriminalization, which allows for syringe exchange programs, decreases needlesticks by 66%.  Law enforcement are sick of being exposed to needlesticks and thus are joining NCHRC in its advocacy to efforts to fight in union for change.  Recently the former Sheriff of Macon County came out in support of our cause, as well as officers from the Charlotte, Concord, Franklin and Winston Salem areas.  NCHRC was able to connect with multiple law enforcement by leading trainings for crisis intervention team officers on working with injection drug users and responding to drug overdoses, by contacting sympathetic officers referred by Law Enforcement Against Prohibition (LEAP) and by directly approaching law enforcement members and trainers.

On April 13th, 2011, NCHRC will bring law enforcement, injection drug users, farm workers who inject vitamins and antibiotics, transgender people who inject hormones, concerned citizens and public health officials, in union with our colleagues at the NC AIDS Action Network to unify for saner syringe and HIV policies in North Carolina.  We will unify as one at the legislature to call North Carolina to liberate itself from unhealthy policies.

We’ll be there and we hope that you too will join in solidarity with us.


Developing HIV/AIDS Strategies in the South: Day 2

By Jeff Graham, Executive Director
Equality Foundation of Georgia

Day two of the Southern REACH convening allowed us the opportunity to work in smaller groups to share information on issues and activities that support HIV/AIDS advocacy in our region.  My friend and colleague Dazon Dixon Diallo of SisterLove summed up the goal of our work when she reminded us that it’s important to speak from one page as a region and realize how each group’s work support our collective goals.

As someone who has worked on HIV advocacy in the south for more than 20 years, it’s always refreshing to hear how others are approaching this work.  Groups broke out to create broad strategies that address the intersection of issues such as Reproductive Justice, Housing, Human Rights, PWLHA Organizing, coordinating Legislative Advocacy Days and promoting Harm Reduction.

Reproductive rights breakoutMy agency looks primarily at how issues of importance to Georgia’s LGBT community intersect with the issues of people living with HIV/AIDS.  Although the topic of Harm Reduction is usually seen as a domain defined exclusively by injection drug users, as the discussion unfolded, we realized that many groups of people such as diabetics and public safety officials can benefit from syringe access programs.  We even identified uninsured transgender individuals as a group who may benefit from these programs if they are forced to share syringes for hormone injections.  Clearly the work that may at first only support one group actually serves to help many others. Housing breakout group

In the afternoon we looked at the how Strategic Communications can advance our cause.  The highlight of this panel was an in-depth look at the Kaiser Family Foundation’s national campaign: We are Greater than AIDS.  This innovative program leverages some of the best talents in the marketing and communications world to bring the issue of the domestic HIV epidemic to a public that has begun to forget that AIDS is still a plague on many of our communities. It’s an excellent example of how we can all benefit when multiple sectors find ways to work together and share our talents towards creating a world where HIV infections are rare and all people living with HIV/AIDS are treated with dignity and respect.

Developing HIV/AIDS Advocacy Strategies in the South

by Jeff Graham, Executive Director
Equality Foundation of Georgia

Convening of NAF Southern REACH Grantees, Day 1

The first day of the National AIDS Fund’s Southern REACH convening was filled with reconnecting with colleagues from throughout the South who are committed to doing the work necessary to address the numerous disparities that define the fight against HIV/AIDS in this hard hit region.

Panel, National HIV/AIDS Strategy

NHAS panel

The opening panel discussed the implications of the National AIDS Strategy and federal health care reform on our work.  The South is a region that has carried an extraordinary burden with extremely limited resources.  While the promise of both the newly released National AIDS Strategy and the passage of federal healthcare reform are reasons for hope, they also present a new set of challenges.  Southern states have unique barriers in fully implementing both of these new strategies.  State legislatures are mostly hostile to the expansion of Medicaid to new populations and there are great concerns that as additional people enter the system, low reimbursement rates and restrictions on the services offered to those currently enrolled will result in further disparities if not adequately addressed.  And while the National AIDS Strategy does specifically mention the burden of the South, many of the recommendations do not adequately address the need for increased resources to alleviate the historical underfunding of services, especially in rural communities.

Panel on impact of HIV/AIDS on Latinos

Panels on both legal strategies and the special needs of Latino/Hispanic communities further defined the specific challenges facing people living with HIV/AIDS and their advocates.  Harsh criminal penalties for HIV transmission and the growing trend of using health care settings to identify and arrest undocumented migrant workers, while not unique to the South, add a new sense of urgency to our work.

Day 1 closing strategy discussion

The day closed with a discussion of how to identify and implement effect strategies to address the growing list of challenges and disparities. Throughout the discussion it is apparent that the people gathered here in New Orleans are truly committed to justice.  With the vision and support of the National AIDS Fund and the Ford Foundation, Southern HIV/ AIDS advocates are finding new resources, gaining new allies and crafting new strategies to address an epidemic that has had a distinctive impact on our region.