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09 februari 2009

Vetenskapens ljus

Spreading the light of science

When the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies was founded in 1919, a major goal was to ‘spread the light of science and the warmth of human sympathy into every corner of the world’, particularly in the field of health care. Today, the message of the International Federation is the same as it was 84 years ago.

Sound scientific evidence and human compassion must be the guiding force in our response to the humanitarian challenges we face. But sadly, political imperatives, donor demands, and ignorance and fear continue to impede the work of preventing and alleviating suffering and protecting human dignity.

Nowhere, is the gap between a humanitarian response based on compassion and scientific evidence and the inadequacies of actual practices, more evident than in the inhumane treatment of injecting drug users. These people are in need of care and compassion, and real alternatives. Instead, they routinely face harassment, stigmatization, violence and social exclusion. The stigma attached to drug use is causing further marginalization of this most vulnerable group and this is directlyimpeding efforts to prevent the spread of HIV.

Forcing people who use drugs further underground and into situations where transmission of HIV/AIDS is more likely, and denying them access to life-saving treatment and prevention services is creating a public health disaster. This happens even though the evidence from scientific and medical research on best practices and cost benefit analyses is overwhelmingly in favour of harm reduction programming. This includes needle exchange, drug substitution treatment and condom distribution as part of the response to HIV/AIDS.

The message is clear. It is time to be guided by the light of science, not by the darkness of ignorance and fear. If we are to put a stop to this trend, communities need to treat drug users in a more humane way, respecting them as people with rights and needs. The Red Cross and Red Crescent is well placed to advocate for the just treatment of drug-users and for harm reduction in general. Our respected name and emblem enable us to reach a wide audience the world over and our compassion and concern for human health and dignity have earned us the trust of the most marginalized groups.

From this perspective, it is very appropriate that the theme of the International Conference of the Red Cross and the Red Crescent in 2003 is Protecting Human Dignity. The Agenda for Humanitarian Action emerging from that conference is one more step in the promotion of humanitarian values, and building the climate to reduce marginalization so the risk and impact of HIV/AIDS and other infectious diseases can be reduced. It demonstrates that the Red Cross and Red Crescent values every life by extending humanitarian assistance to where is it most needed, without discrimination.

Juan Manuel Suárez del Toro Rivero

International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies

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