Harm reduction covers the policies, programmes and practices aimed to reduce the harms that come along with the use of psychoactive drugs for people who continue to use drugs for whatever reason. There is a focus on the prevention of harm, rather than on the prevention of drug use itself. Besides, harm reduction is a movement for the social justice that is built on a belief in the rights of people who use drugs. Harm reduction is an approach where the health and quality of life of people who use drugs is the focus and where the drug use is taken as a given circumstance. It became widely accepted by its proven effectiveness in the battle against HIV and was recognized when HIV started to spread among and from injecting drug users. In the Netherlands and other countries, harm reduction has also improved a wider range of public health issues, such as hepatitis, tuberculosis, mental public health, addictions, and also such aspects of marginalization as homelessness, unemployment, detention etc.
The number of new HIV infections among people who inject drugs increases in Eastern Europe and Central Asia (EECA) every year. In the EECA region, harm reduction is mostly accepted only as a response to HIV. The coming years AFEW will work on better demonstration that harm reduction is effective in more ways and build healthy societies that work towards reaching Sustainable Development Goals.
AFEW is the collaborative partner of the Joint Action on HIV and Co-infection Prevention and Harm Reduction (HA-REACT) that addresses existing gaps in the prevention of HIV and other co-infections, especially tuberculosis and viral hepatitis, among people who inject drugs. AFEW is also a member of Correlation Network – European Network Social Inclusion and Health. Harm reduction is also the key element in the People who use Drugs programme in the Bridging the Gaps project.