The Australian Injecting & Illicit Drug Users League (AIVL) was first incorporated as an association in 1992. The Australian Stigma Conference is a historic milestone, celebrating 30 years of AIVL, an organisation that remains at the forefront of the response to the HIV epidemic in Australia. This response has saved many lives by limiting the spread of HIV Aids among people who use drugs. Through the efforts of AIVL, AIVL members, friends and allies, the incidence of HIV among people who use drugs in Australia has remained steady at 1-2% of the population of people who use drugs, one of the world’s lowest rates.
30 years on, AIVL is still here fighting for the health and human rights of people who use and inject drugs, one of the most stigmatised groups of people in Australia. Experience shows that meeting the health needs of everyone in our community is fundamental to tackling bloodborne diseases like HIV and Hepatitis C across the population.
The inaugural Australian Stigma Conference was held on the 17th of November 2022, in the Great Hall at the Australian Parliament House. The forum-style conference brought together policymakers, healthcare professionals and people who use drugs to engage in dialogue and hear about how stigma impacts people who use drugs. They included international experts and activists, and people from across Australia. Key topics were the impact of stigma on illicit drug overdoses, on impeding Australia’s 2030 Hep C elimination goals, and on undermining harm reduction efforts more broadly.
Check out the recording of the conference here: https://www.facebook.com/AIVLInc/videos/495570829203545
The 2019 Australian Drug household survey confirmed that 43% of Australians over the age of 14 admit to illicit drug use at some point in their lifetime. AIVL CEO, Geoff Manu, commented: “This shows that stigma and drug use continue to have some type of impact on almost half of Australia’s adult population.
“Stigma discourages people from opening up about issues with their drug use, from seeking support and accessing treatment that can save their lives”.
Sione Crawford, CEO of Harm Reduction Victoria noted, “Stigma kills people – almost 1700 Australians die of illicit drug overdoses each year, that’s 50% more than die in road accidents. These are peoples’ sons, daughters, brothers, sisters, and friends.”
Mr Manu continued: “Australia was once a leader in embracing harm reduction but is now lagging significantly behind many western nations. In the 1990s, thanks to the embracing of harm reduction practices, Australia saw rates of HIV transmission among people who inject drugs 14 x less than that of the United States. But it is now 20 years since the Federal Government updated the Strategy for Harm Reduction.”
Chris Gough, Executive Director of CAHMA, noted: “The Conference provided a unique opportunity to discuss the underlying causes of stigma, and what Australia can do to tackle it better and catch up with efforts in other countries.”
Mr Manu pointed out: “We know that supporting harm reduction measures like supervised needle and syringe programs can drastically reduce the number of overdose deaths. With the right programs, there is every prospect we could reach the target of eliminating Hepatitis C by 2030. That would be a huge health win.
“We also need to advance drug law reform across all Australia jurisdictions. With renewed national leadership and investment, we could regain Australia’s leading role in harm reduction practice. Dismantling stigma is within our reach and needs to be a national health priority,” he concluded.
AIVL is the national organisation representing people who use/have used illicit drugs and is the peak body for the state and territory peer-based drug user organisations.
Geoff Manu, CEO, AVIL, firstname.lastname@example.org
Chris Gough, Executive Director, CAHMA, email@example.com
Sione Crawford, CEO, Harm Reduction Victoria, firstname.lastname@example.org