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Global Harm Reduction Advocates

In the lead up to the 11th National Harm Reduction Conference, we’re interviewing a number of influential harm reduction and drug policy reform advocates from around the globe–all of whom will be joining us in person at the conference! The aim is to start an engaging discussion around harm reduction and drug policy reform in the international arena and to raise awareness of harm reduction advocacy occurring outside North America. Traveling to the conference? Be sure to introduce yourself to these global advocates.

Marina Sant’Anna: São Paulo, Brazil

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Please tell the U.S. harm reduction community a little about yourself

My name is Marina Sant’Anna, I’m a psychologist and management coordinator of Centro de Convivência É de Lei. É de Lei was founded in 1998 in São Paulo and it is the first drop-in center in Brazil. The organization was created in order to assist and fight the high incidence of HIV and AIDS among people who inject drugs, and promote civic and social inclusion.  É de Lei employs a harm reduction approach in outreach work and in the development and research of new strategies for intervention, regardless of drug type or routes of administration. The organization conducts technical and scientific seminars on harm reduction, and hosts training courses for health and social workers. Since its foundation, É de Lei has participated in the creation and coordination of many spaces for the articulation of policies and practices in the field of harm reduction. Our contact with other groups and different sectors of society such as public services, forums and councils, legislators, managers, public advocacy, etc… ensures a network articulated against the drug war. These 18 years of experience have enabled us a successful entry into the territory in which we operate among people who use drugs. We seek to invest more in advocacy and community organization to affirm and disseminate human rights.

How did you become involved in harm reduction?

After working in a research about drinking and driving at the Psychiatric Institute of University of São Paulo I was invited to work at É de Lei and immediately the harm reduction perspective made sense to me. I’ve been working with harm reduction since 2003, and I’ve experienced many areas such as: outreach work, assisting people that use drugs at the drop in center, project development, communication (website, social media, publications), training other workers about harm reduction, organizing forums and direct actions.

What are you most excited about in attending the 11th National Harm Reduction Conference? 

I’m really excited about the opportunity to join other harm reduction workers and share experiences and knowledges in order to improve our activities in Brazil. We want to change the way people take care of themselves, guarantee better direct services, fight against discrimination and stigma, promote empowerment and emancipation among people that have no voice and no place. I think that would be very important to learn more about how different people and organizations can work together, how they articulate strength to gain power and be effective in political and social changes.

What would like to share with the U.S. harm reduction community about harm reduction and drug policy reform in Brazil?

Brazil faces a significant political crisis today after a coup in our federal government, and there is the real risk of a big setback in our drug policies and in the financing of harm reduction programs. But I can tell that Brazil’s harm reduction community members are organizing themselves to fight against this retreat.

Yohan David Misero: Jakarta, Indonesia

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Please tell the U.S. harm reduction community a little about yourself

My name is Yohan David Misero. I work as an advocacy and communications officer and a drug policy analyst at LBH Masyarakat (Community Legal Aid Institute), a legal aid organization based in Jakarta, Indonesia. Indonesia is the biggest, and I think the most beautiful, country in Southeast Asia. For the geographically challenged, it’s located above Australia.

Our organization gives people the tools to empower themselves in the legal environment: free legal aid, research, trainings and policy advocacy on, with, and for prisoners, people on death row and marginalized communities such as people who use drugs, sex workers, LGBTIQ+ people, PLHIV, and people with mental health issues.

How did you become involved in harm reduction and drug policy reform?

My interest started at university. When I started to research various drug policies around the world and found out that Indonesia’s national policy on drugs is harsh if compared to the progressive wave of policy reform now. I graduated two-years behind schedule, so I tried to find some activities to fill my spare time. The universe, in its unique way, sent me to this wonderful organization, LBH Masyarakat, and since 2013, I gave my time and energy for Indonesia’s drug policy reform.

What are you most excited about in attending the 11th National Harm Reduction Conference? 

I am excited about many things: new friends, expanding networks, new information, the location, the film festival, the NA session… but most of all is the inspiration. A conference of like-minded people is important to maintain one’s sanity, it reminds us that we are not alone in this dark long trip.

What would like to share with the U.S. harm reduction community about harm reduction and drug policy reform in Indonesia?

Well, anything that I know about the drug policy in my country! Though, specifically, I have been conducting research on Indonesia’s compulsory reporting system and its compliance to international human rights standard, so if anybody wants to hear more about this, I’m more than happy to share.

Catalina Correa: Bogotá, Colombia

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How did you become involved in harm reduction and drug policy reform?

I became involved in harm reduction because we took this approach to work with people who use drugs  and street-connected communities in Bogotá. Based on our previous work on drugs and youth, we had enough evidence to see that something different needed to be done other than the war on drugs that caused serious harm to people who used drugs. So we decided to start developing our own harm reduction model with the communities we work with and adapt it locally to their needs and situation. This has enabled us to study and analyze different ways in which harm reduction can be implemented and understood to provide a solid evidence base for drug policy reform.

What are you most excited about in attending the 11th National Harm Reduction Conference? 

I am most excited about seeing the LGBT initiatives of harm reduction and drug policy, efforts and organizations of sex workers since these are topics we work with. Also, I am excited about seeing the panel on prisons and jails.

What would like to share with the U.S. harm reduction community about harm reduction and drug policy reform in Colombia?

Colombia is still starting to understand that the war on drugs is not the way to go to solve social problems related to drug traffic and public health. There is still much to do on public policy and public health so that people who use drugs not pushed towards violence or discrimination. Moreover, the war on drugs has been most violent to poor people or street-connected users, which entangles multiples health and mental health risks, police violence and abuses. It is paramount to find a way to include harm reduction agendas on the complex political context that is currently happening in Colombia.

Said Slim: Tijuana, Mexico

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Please tell the U.S. harm reduction community a little about yourself

My name is Said Slim, I live on the Mexico-United States border. Work in the civil organization Pour AC. I studied anthropology and I’m a human rights activist since I belong to the urban culture of resistance movement known as punk. Currently I have professionalized my activism from civil society organized without forgetting my roots self-management and equity learned from my youth.

How did you become involved in harm reduction and drug policy reform?

I got involved to see the problems related to drug use was present in my community, but especially seeing as my friends the punk movement had a worship heroin and from which no maintained action for health and exercise of human rights.

What are you most excited about in attending the 11th National Harm Reduction Conference? 

Knowing the response of the border community of Mexico and the United States who share the binational problem with all diplomatic constraints involved in this coexistence.I am eager to share the experiences that our organization has on the issue of harm reduction and especially learning that we can have on issues overdose prevention, distribution of naloxone and new strategies to mitigate the damage caused by consumption of methamphetamine.

What would like to share with the U.S. harm reduction community about harm reduction and drug policy reform in Mexico?

Highlight the double standards of existing policies in Mexico on one side boast worldwide to promote a drug policy with a focus on public health and based on human rights and the reality is that is one of the countries with the largest stigma and discrimination policy towards the issue of drugs, enough to recognize the drug war that has left thousands of deaths in Mexico.

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