Canadian health minister resists WHO on safe injection sites

The federal health minister repeated his opposition to safe injection sites at an international AIDS conference this week, in contrast to the World Health Organization's supportive stance on the harm reduction approach.

The federal health minister remains opposed to safe injection sites, in contrast to the World Health Organization's supportive stance on the harm reduction approach to HIV.

Tony Clement attended the launch of the WHO's how-to guide to fight HIV/AIDS at the 17th International AIDS Conference in Mexico City on Tuesday. He was invited to speak about Canada's progress in preventing mother to child transmission of HIV/AIDS.

At supervised safe injection sites such as Insite in Vancouver's Downtown Eastside, drug users can get safe needles and cannot be arrested or prosecuted.

While the WHO is committed to safe injection sites as part of harm reduction programs, Clement said the sites encourage drug use, calling them a form of "harm addiction."

The organization's guidebook is designed to help low- and middle-income countries fight the pandemic, which the WHO calls "the most serious infectious disease challenge to global public health."

In stating the WHO's position on safe injection sites, the documents said: "Safe injecting sites are not a new intervention but simply a repackaging of existing WHO-recommended interventions such as needle exchanges, etc.

The guide includes tips on:

  • Distributing condoms.
  • Counselling.
  • Accessing tests to diagnose HIV.

The documents said that more than 6,800 people become infected daily with HIV and more than 5,700 die every day because they have no access to HIV prevention, treatment and care.

On Monday, Clement pledged $45 million toward fighting the spread of HIV and AIDS in Africa. He said the funds will build on the $515 million that Canada has contributed to the international fight against the disease over the past three years.

With files from Canadian Press