CUT Harm Reduction Conference in Mauritius

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First Conference

As a leading NGO working in Harm Reduction, CUT organised a conference to assess the situation of opiates abuse in the country, having an overview of the health, social and policy implications as well as conducting an appraisal of Harm Reduction Services in Mauritius.

The Conference which took place in the Conference Centre of the Freeport Operations (Mauritius) Ltd, Mer Rouge, from the 20th to 22nd October of 2009, saw the participation of numerous social actors already involved in either HIV/AIDS, Drug Abuse or Harm Reduction at the local level. The conference also witnessed the participation of key figures from various Ministries, and other representatives of Government which contributed to the success of the Conference. More importantly, actual and former drug users as well as people on the Methadone Substitution Therapy and others benefitting from the Needle Exchange Programme have also been invited to actively contribute in the debates and sessions during these three days. Other participants from various countries, namely Australia, the United States of America, France and Seychelles were also present as specialists of numerous fields pertaining to the Conference. Lastly, ten delegates from East Africa, i.e. Tanzania and Kenya, were invited at the Conference as part of a Study Tour to see the different policies and interventions specific  to Harm Reduction that have been implemented in Mauritius for them to acquire an in-depth knowledge that could be brought back to their respective countries. Altogether, there were around 140 participants at the Conference.

The three days of the Conference was broken in specific themes to be addressed. The first day saw presentations pertaining to the actual situation of drug use at the international, regional and local level, the history and laws related to drug use in Mauritius, as well as presentation which sought to explain the addiction phenomenon as a whole. The second day was aimed at identifying the current response (or lack of) both in terms of supply and demand reduction. Particular emphasis was put on sessions regarding the response for Women and Young Injecting Drug Users and part of the response in terms of harm reduction. On the last day, harm reduction was again the main theme addressed and a set of presentations were conducted so as to discuss future policies and interventions needed to improve the national response, that is, the way forward.

Second Conference

2nd Conference On Harm Reduction In Mauritius: Towards A Client-Centered Approach To Harm Reduction

In October 2009, the first Conference on Opiate Abuse and Harm Reduction Services in Mauritius brought together over 150 participants including civil society, government and the private sector. Local, regional and international actors working in the field of harm reduction contributed to a successful conference that took stock of the risks and harms associated with injecting drug use in Mauritius and the harm reduction responses being implemented. The second conference, held on September 20th to 22nd, 2011 was a follow up to the first and had for theme:  ‘A Client Centered Approach to Harm Reduction’.

Its principal objective was to engage participants in a discussion on the ways of improving the quality of harm reduction services delivered in Mauritius so as to better cater to the needs of beneficiaries. At the core of Harm Reduction is the respect for human rights, including for People Who Use Drugs (PWUDs) and a concern for public health. Thus, a comprehensive Harm Reduction policy is one that ought to privilege the rights and well being of the client, hence the theme of this conference.

Over the three days of the conference, experts and practitioners from Mauritius, the Indian Ocean and beyond participated in a series of sessions touching on different aspects of Harm Reduction. While Maria Phelan of Harm Reduction International noted the persistent lack of financial resources available for the implementation of harm reduction services, Olivier Maguet of Médecins du Monde exposed the need for broadening the parameters of harm reduction beyond the narrow focus on HIV. He talked of overdose prevention, drug policies, minimising social and economic harms linked to drug use, as well as mental health and community involvement as important aspects of harm reduction which are often neglected in the implementation of Harm Reduction programmes.

As per the focus group discussions conducted with PWUDs in the lead up to the conference, it was evident that the relationship between drug policies and harm reduction policies is a problematic one. Thus, the findings of the Global Commission on Drugs, suggesting the failure of the war on drugs, were presented. Furthermore, Greg Denham of the Law Enforcement and Harm Reduction Network (LEAHRN) – now known as LEAHN detailed the benefits of including a harm reduction component in the scheme of work of drug enforcement agencies.

Last but not least, Jude Byrne of the International Network of People who Use Drugs (INPUD) spoke of the need for peer involvement in policy making and service delivery related to harm reduction programmes. Her participation reinforced the principal theme of the conference: a client centered approach to Harm Reduction. The clear conclusion of this conference was thus that a holistic approach, in line with the 9 principles of the UNODC-WHO1 joint discussion paper on drug dependence treatment  is required at all levels, from policy to service delivery, for the implementation of a client centered approach to Harm Reduction.

The programme of the Conference

The presentations

The photos

The video of the conference

1United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) and World Health Organisation (WHO) (2008); Principles of Drug Dependence Treatment – Discussion Paper, Available at: http://www.unodc.org/documents/drug-treatment/UNODC-WHO-Principles-of-Drug-Dependence-Treatment-March08.pdf