September 15, 2005 - 6:59PM
Australia has told Asian countries that tough tactics in their war on drugs have accelerated the spread of HIV/AIDS in the region.
The warning came during a two-day seminar of senior police officers from 12 Asian nations at the Thai seaside resort of Hua Hin.
Australian officials said Asian countries should pursue alternative harm reduction programs, such as needle and syringe exchanges as well as voluntary rehabilitation.
Many officers at the conference came from nations that punish drug offenders and traffickers with long prison terms or the death penalty.
But Peter Mahomet, AusAid's Asia regional HIV/AIDS program manager, said Asian police forces could learn from Australia's strategy of reducing the spread of AIDS among injecting drug users.
"We're trying to encourage police to be supportive and allow injecting drug users to access services that help reduce ... the HIV harm of injecting drugs; providing access to clean needles and syringes to avoid HIV transmission," Mahomet told AAP.
Mahomet, who is based in Hanoi, said Asia's "get tough" drug reduction methods were failing.
Up to 80 per cent of those placed in involuntary rehabilitation centres returned to drugs after trying to give up through cold turkey methods, he said.
"They spend a lot of money at involuntary rehabilitation centres and as soon as they get out they start using again," he said.
In Thailand, South China, Vietnam and Burma, which have drug trafficking routes, as many as 60 per cent injecting drug users have HIV.
"If we carry on with the current drug supply reduction strategy and drug demand reduction strategies, HIV will continue to flourish," he said.