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Jakarta Post

Academics, experts call for evidence-based public health response to drugs

  • The Jakarta Post

    The Jakarta Post

Jakarta   /   Sun, June 7, 2015   /  03:59 pm

A group of Indonesian academics and experts have urged the government to commit to the use of scientifically proven public health approaches to address drug abuse and the discontinuance of strategies found to be counterproductive, such as involuntary rehabilitation and the death penalty.

A researcher with the University of Atmajaya'€™s HIV and AIDS Research Centre, Irwanto, praised the Indonesian government'€™s policies, which he said had shown increased commitment to addressing drug abuse and guaranteeing the well-being of its citizens.

'€œTo achieve them, however, the government must choose public health and harm-reduction strategies. The war-on-drugs approach it currently implements has been proven to have failed around the globe as it has caused more harm than good,'€ said the veteran drug and HIV researcher.

Irwanto and other academics and researchers made the call in an open letter to President Joko Widodo, recently published in leading health journal The Lancet.

A researcher with the Center for Health Policy and Management at the University of Gadjah Mada'€™s School of Medicine, Ignatius Praptoraharjo, said he and his fellow academics and researchers had evidence of health-focused approaches and programs that could work and had implemented them in Indonesia since the early 2000s.

'€œWe have an ethical obligation to provide our citizens with options that save lives, such as a needle and syringe program, opioid substitution therapy and community-based, voluntary drug treatment,'€ he said.

Despite the proven success of these interventions, Praptoraharjo said, the government'€™s poor political commitment and lack of funding had impeded their implementation. Indonesia'€™s current punitive strategies did not provide enough space for meaningful health programs.

'€œOur limited funds are instead being used to bolster fear-based approaches, which effectively drive people in need further away from health programs,'€ said Praptoraharjo.

National AIDS Commission secretary-general Kemal Siregar said drug users faced increasing stigma, discrimination and human rights violations as punitive drug control measures had increasingly trumped public health.

'€œHIV infections will continue to rise as long as drug users continue to live in fear of arrest or placement in involuntary rehabilitation,'€ he said. (ebf)

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