Needle Exchange Programmes : The Controversies in Perspective

There has been much hype surrounding the recent announcement by the Ministry of Health to approve a programme intended to decrease the incidence of HIV infection especially among injecting drug abusers. It was indeed a bold move that many thought was unimaginable in a society not well known for its liberal thoughts. There are of course advocates and sceptics alike. This issue traverses all levels of society and involves complex issues that are debatable, with clearly no resolve even in developed countries. It is not a simple public health measure.

It is important to be non-judgemental when looking at this issue of needle exchange programmes. Even the most pious ones, will have to acknowledge that something must be done to stem the tide of HIV/AIDS infections, for which injecting drug abusers form the largest fraction. Education and religious fervour should no doubt remain the most important counter measure against HIV/AIDS. However, being realistic that education takes time and is a slow continous process, should arouse us to find a quicker solution to avoid new infections in the interim period.

There is little doubt that needle exchange programmes are a huge success in many countries. Many miscontrue this programme as an “approval” for drug abusers. However, with the implementation of this programme we can not only monitor drug abusers but also offer them help in the form of counselling and medications eg methadone. Hopefully in this way , we can draw injecting drug abusers from the shadows of backstreet lanes and thus the opportunity to offer them rehabilitation by choice rather than by force.

PEMADAM has been sceptical about this needle exchange programme. Being at the helm of the Pusat Serenti programme which has been dubbed a failure, they are still refusing to accept facts that there has to be a radical solution to a potential devastating epidemic of unimaginable proportions in the near future. There should be no political or religious interventions when tackling this global problem. It should be done for the sake of humanity.

Such programmes have always been strongly opposed by religious groups. Their hypocrisy at times can be nauseating. However, they play an important role in our battle against HIV/AIDS. From education to incorporating programmes to accomodate drug abusers and HIV positive individuals, much is hoped for.

Sexual promiscuity remains a centuries old problem that should be recognised as a threat to society. Providing condoms and teaching its proper usage is only apt in tandem with this needle exchange programme.

I truly applaud the Ministry of Health for making this bold move that I, myself have never imagined possible. I truly hope that this programme will achieve successes comparable with that of other countries. It is time we join forces rather than bicker among us. Time is of the essence.

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