Over the last seven years, ISDS gain good experience in research on drug issues and harm reduction. In 2003, ISDS was commissioned by UNODC to conduct a qualitative study on gender aspects of drug use in Hai Phong. In 2004, ISDS continues to get a grant from UNODC to do a qualitative research on sub-culture of drug users in Ha Noi. Since 2008, ISDS has been involving in the Ausaid funded multi-country project "Law Enforcement and Harm Reduction" with three other organisations: Nossal Institute for Global Health, University of Melbourne (Australia), National Institute of Public Health (Cambodia), National University of Laos. Key components to this project include an analysis of policy environment in term of harm reduction of the country, conducting a qualitative research on the role of law enforcement in harm reduction.
Advocacy and information sharing
ISDS is among very few local organizations persistently advocate for a more human treatment to drug users. Starting with a research on social and economic impact of drug use to families, followed by another research on sub-culture of drug use, the Institute’s knowledge about this special population has since been growing.
Recognized the severe level of exclusion against this population, ISDS began its efforts to advocate for rights of drug users by introducing harm reduction concept to the Communist Party’s then Central Commission of Ideology and Culture in 2003. Series of informal and formal one-on-one and small group discussions with Commission’s officials, strategic partnership with WHO resulted in changing perception of Commission’s leadership on the issue. Ground-breaking workshops on harm reduction organized by the Commission with Party and government senior officials, and with mass media contributed significantly to the inclusion of harm reduction as a priority intervention in the National Strategy on HIV/AIDS.
Advocacy efforts made by the trustful and strategic partnership between the Commission, WHO and the Institute on harm reduction between 2003 and 2006 played a crucial role in legalization of harm reduction for HIV prevention as stipulated in HIV/AIDS Law in 2006.
Being consistent in advocating for rights of drug users, ISDS has made ourselves available to response to any opportunity and challenge. During the discussion of the Amendment of Drug Law in 2008, despite the lack of openness from the policy-makers, ISDS in partnership with the UN team and the National Assembly’s Center for Library, Information and Research collected and presented evidence support drug treatment to and counter-evidence against criminalization and detention of drug users to National Assembly members. In the same move, ISDS collaborated with mass media to raise public awareness and support to the cause. Those efforts contributed to the emergence of a more progressive view about drug use – where it is considered a health problem, and not criminal. That helps to navigate ways drug users to be treated as proposed in the draft amendment from severely punitive to more humane.
ISDS actively collaborates with national media, including television, radio and newspapers, to provide information and raise awareness for the public on the issues of drug addiction, higligting issue of stigma against drug use and its harmful consequences for drug user themselves and for the family and community as well.
Capacity building, empowerment and community development
ISDS is among a very few NGO that employs an HIV positive, ex-prisoner and drug user to be a professional staff. Being employed by ISDS since 2005, this staff has been empowered, become a key staff member, been trusted to give management responsibility of one important project. This has been inspiration for organizations as well as drug user and PLHIV about how an organization can be stigma-free and how far such a person can achieve.
Building on that example, ISDS employed 13 ex-drug users to be coordinators and peer educators for a project working with sexual partner of drug users. The project has been a success, adding to the confidence and bring live evidence that drug users can contribute significantly to social causes once they are empowered and given the opportunity.
Through VCSPA, ISDS has supported the establishment of the first drug user group in Vietnam. Also, within the PEPFAR funded project on reducing HIV related stigma, in the period 2009-2010, ISDS in collaboration with ICRW successfully developed a toolkit to guide actions for reducing stigma relating to drug use and HIV. A series of training and sensitization workshops using the toolkit has been conducted with police, 05-06 centers’ staff, NGO and CBO workers (link with IDU tookit). The participants highly appreciated this initiative of ISDS and committed to integrate activities reducing stigma against drug users in their work.
Within the Global Fund Project, ISDS continues to support drug users to set up or maintain their self-help groups. A series of activities has been carried out to empower and build up capacity in HIV prevention for those groups in Ha Noi, Vinh Phuc, Hai Duong, Vinh Long and Can Tho.
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