In 2008, AIVL was invited by the Australian Aid Program to join a regional program of Australian organisations to work in partnership with other organisations in Asia and the Pacific. The Australian organisations included affected community, research and health related organisations, all with expertise in the HIV response. The aim was to work with similar organisations in Asia and the Pacific to share our experience and develop the capacity of our peers in each of these areas.
Although AIVL has been representing Australian people who use drugs (PUD) in issues of significance to our community since the late 1980s, it was the first time we had been funded to work in another country. It was also likely the first time a peer-based drug user organisation had been funded to work in development and aid anywhere in the world.
We have now been supporting our peer networks in Asia for more than five years. We have learnt a lot in that time. Our own funding has changed and along with it, the requirements of the programs we deliver. We have developed our project as we learnt more about our place in development, what our partners wanted and what they needed. We have also learnt a lot about our own small community organisation, working in diverse environments, varied political contexts and amongst a range of local and international organisations.
Since 2012, AIVL has been managing the StANDUP International program as part of the Regional HIV and AIDS Capacity Building Project. It is funded by the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) Development Aid section, formerly known as AusAID.
The Regional HIV and AIDS Capacity Building Project includes the following organisations:
- Albion Street Centre (ASC);
- Asia Pacific Network of Positive People (APN+);
- Australasian Society for HIV Medicine (ASHM);
- Australian Federation of AIDS Organisations (AFAO);
- Australian Injecting and Illicit Drug Users League (AIVL);
- National Serology Reference Laboratory (NRL);
- Scarlet Alliance; and
- University of NSW through the Kirby Institute.
AIVL’s StANDUP project is focused on working in partnership with networks and organisations of people who use drugs in Asia to develop their capacity to respond to HIV and other issues of significance to their communities. AIVL is currently working with networks of people who use drugs (PUD) in Indonesia – PKNI, and Viet Nam – VNPUD, and with the Asia Regional Network of People who Use Drugs – ANPUD.
ANPUD is a relatively new arrival on the scene, representing several different countries, languages and cultures. Its members range in experience. Some people and organisations are very new to drug user organising and others are more established with a high level of experience and capacity. For various reasons, there are still many countries in Asia with no drug user organisations.
ANPUD was formed following meetings among drug users during other international events such as conferences in Goa in 2007, and in Bangkok in 2008. In the few years before, the International Network of People who Use Drugs (INPUD) had been formed. Some of the early members of INPUD were from countries in Asia where drug user organisations had formed. Although these people were very active in INPUD, they thought their issues in Asia were similar to each other and separate to the international drug user movement as a whole. They decided to form an Asian regional network so they could focus on efforts to improve the lives of people in their own communities, particularly around issues such as lack of access to harm reduction, lack of access to hepatitis C education, testing and treatment, and compulsory drug detention centres, issues that weren’t as relevant to people who use drugs (PUD) in places like Europe, Australia and North America.
In 2009, AIVL supported the first self-organised ANPUD regional meeting of people who use drugs in Bangkok. People representing drug user networks came from countries as diverse as Nepal, Mauritius, Indonesia and Myanmar. The meeting established ANPUD’s Constitution, Executive Board and an advisory board. It set the strategic priorities of the network, and was the first step in what proved to be a rapid ascent into the consciousness of the Asian HIV response.
Since then, ANPUD has established an office with paid staff in Bangkok. ANPUD has developed position statements, a manual for developing drug user organisations, and its own guidance documents. The network has represented PUD in Asia in many of the region’s most important meetings and events, and is the network most other organisations consult when working with PUD in Asia.
When ANPUD first began, AIVL’s support allowed the network to employ a Regional Coordinator, an admin worker and later a Hepatitis C Coordinator. The AIVL StANDUP project currently supports ANPUD’s Executive Committee meetings. AIVL supported the first and second strategic planning meetings ANPUD held with its members to guide the development of the network. We worked with ANPUD to develop position papers on compulsory drug detention in Asia, access to hepatitis C testing, diagnosis and treatment, and the criminalisation of PUD in Asia. We also work with ANPUD to increase its representation at regional and international events such as the International Conference on AIDS in Asia and the Pacific (ICAAP) in Bangkok in November 2013, and the International Conference on AIDS, held in Melbourne in July 2014. AIVL’s support includes sourcing funding for ANPUD’s members to be able to represent their own local and national organisations, as well as ANPUD in events such as these. It allows them to develop their capacity to do advocacy, their connection to regional and international networks of PUD, and understanding of the issues faced by PUD in Asia among the wider community of people working in HIV and drug use.
Since it began working with AIVL, ANPUD has received both core funding and activity funding from a range of donors including the Joint United Nations Programme on AIDS (UNAIDS), the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), the World Health Organisation (WHO) and the Robert Carr Foundation through the International Network of People who Use Drugs (INPUD). The network is currently providing capacity development and support among PUD networks in Vietnam, Indonesia, Nepal and India in particular. It has also formed strategic partnerships with a number of international organisations working in the area of drugs and HIV, and has advised committees, researchers and other relevant regional and international organisations.
ANPUD is looking at ways to build its membership and expand its influence, so that PUD in Asia can receive the services they need, and stakeholders can understand better how to support PUD and their organisations. As ANPUD and its members in different countries provide more examples of the importance of their work, PUD in countries where there is no representative organisation may learn how essential their experience can be for PUD in their own countries, and for responding at the regional level to the issues PUD face.
More about ANPUD can be found on its website: www.anpud.org.
PKNI is the Indonesian Drug User Network. Since forming several years ago, PKNI has had periods of time where they have had little or no funding, and internal issues. These experiences have strengthened the network, providing valuable experience about what PUD want and need, and how the network can develop its processes and capacity to respond.
PKNI is now one of the most experienced, effective and respected networks of PUD in Asia, if not the world. For the last few years, PKNI has had a national secretariat funded mainly by the Indonesian National AIDS Commission. It is one of the only organisations of its kind in Asia to receive funding and support from its own government, and one of the few with core funding, which allows the organisation to pay their staff and run an office.
AIVL has supported PKNI and some of the local level members in Indonesia since the beginning of our International Program. Indonesian PUD had asked for advice on a range of issues in the early days of their own development, and these relationships were strengthened when AIVL was able to provide more support to the local and national networks.
Since the development of this relationship, PKNI has gone from strength to strength, and is now one of the most professional and highly regarded drug user networks in the world. With AIVL’s support, PKNI is currently working to develop the capacity of its local level members to achieve a minimum standard of advocacy skills, and is conducting research about women who use drugs in Indonesia. PKNI is also working with AIVL to educate the national Vietnamese network of PUD.
The Viet Nam Network of People who Use Drugs (VNPUD) is one of the newest of the Asian PUD networks. It was formed at the end of 2011 by a group of people from around Viet Nam, most of whom had started their own small voluntary organisations and support groups. Very few of its members have ever worked in organisations with funding. Many of the members have spent significant years of their adult lives in compulsory drug detention centres and prisons. The advent of some harm reduction and HIV services for PUD in Viet Nam allowed the formation of some small PUD organisations. These small organisations began to work with PUD in their local communities, sometimes supporting each other within friendship groups and other times, particularly if funded to provide harm reduction services, with as many PUD as they could find.
In 2011, a group of leaders from these organisations decided a national network of PUD was needed to do higher level advocacy and address the many concerns of PUD in Viet Nam. They quickly gained the support of a well-regarded, national, non-government organisation, the Centre for Supporting Community Development Initiatives, and held their first meetings.
AIVL first met the Coordinating Committee about six months after VNPUD’s formation. We provided the first workshop, and from this VNPUD developed a Mission Statement, Vision and Constitution for the network. They also came up with a basic strategic plan, which was used to gain funding from other stakeholders working in Viet Nam.
AIVL has continued to support VNPUD since the first workshop. The network has more than doubled its membership in that time. In 2014, there are about fifty local member organisations, some very small, and the largest having around four hundred individual members of its own. VNPUD has formed strong relationships with a range of stakeholders, and has gained funding allowing the network to develop capacity in several areas.
AIVL has provided training to the Coordinating Committee and some of its members in areas such as organisational development, strategic planning, peer education, training of trainers and hepatitis and HIV co-infection. Our support provides a representative of the network to be on the ANPUD Executive Board, and we have also been able to bring participants to regional meetings and conferences including an ANPUD Strategic Planning meeting, the International Conference on AIDS in Asia and the Pacific held in Bangkok in November 2013, and the International AIDS Conference in Melbourne in July 2014.
The Role of PUD in the Asian HIV Response
Although AIVL’s International Program focuses a lot of attention on three partner organisations, we have also worked with a range of stakeholders and other PUD organisations. PUD organisations face barriers that other organisations don’t face. Our work and our workers are heavily stigmatised, and in many cases are not able to register our organisations. We are vulnerable to incarceration and illness. HIV has hit our peers in Asia especially hard, and the discrimination they face means they have less access to health services including HIV treatment than many other parts of the community. Our networks are therefore both essential and fragile.
We have worked to build relationships between international donors and PUD networks and organisations in various countries, and we have directly supported PUD organisations at the local, provincial and national levels. We have a strong relationship with the International Network of People who Use Drugs who are also now supporting the development of capacity of PUD networks in Asia.
AIVL’s International Program was the first in an expanding culture of acknowledging the unique role drug users have to play in working with our peers. As drug trends change, and the world increasingly recognises drug use is not going to go away. Drug user organisations including AIVL and our partners in Asia, are proving we have an essential role to play in the HIV response. It is our right, our responsibility and our privilege to be a part of this.