Accelerating harm reduction interventions to confront the HIV epidemic in the Western Pacific and Asia: the role of WHO (WPRO)

Harm Reduct J. 2008 Aug 5;5:26. doi: 10.1186/1477-7517-5-26.


The epidemic of HIV/AIDS linked to injecting drug usage is one of the most explosive in recent years. After a historical epicentre in Europe, South and North America, at present it is clearly the main cause of dissemination of the epidemic in Eastern Europe and some key Asian countries. Recently, 10 African countries reported the spread of HIV through people who inject drugs (PWID), breaking one of the final geographical barriers to the globalization of the epidemic of HIV among and from PWID. Several countries of the Asia and Pacific Region have HIV epidemics that are driven by injecting drug usage. Harm reduction interventions have been implemented in many countries and potential barriers to implementation are being overcome. Harm reduction is no longer a marginal approach in the Region; instead, it is the core tool for responding to the HIV/AIDS epidemic among PWID. The development of a comprehensive response in the Region has been remarkable, including scaling up of needle and syringe programmes (NSPs), methadone maintenance treatment (MMT), and care, support and treatment for PWID. This development is being followed up by strong ongoing changes in policies and legislations. The main issue now is to enhance interventions to a level that can impact the epidemic. The World Health Organization (WHO) is one of the leading UN agencies promoting harm reduction. Since the establishment of the Global Programme on AIDS, WHO has been working towards an effective response to the HIV epidemic among PWID. WHO's work is organized into a number of components: establishing an evidence base; advocacy; development of normative standards, tools and guidelines; providing technical support to countries; ensuring access to essential medicines, diagnostics and commodities; and mobilizing resources. In this paper, we trace the course of development of the HIV/AIDS epidemic among and from PWID in the Western Pacific and Asia Region (WPRO) as well as WHO's role in supporting the response in some of the key countries: Cambodia, China, Lao PDR, Malaysia, the Philippines and Viet Nam.

Publication types

  • Editorial