Announcing Launch of the Faith For Harm Reduction Manual

20 October 2020

Alliance India, URI, eminent faith-based institutions, and The Global Fund are launching the training module for sensitizing faith-based communities on health and rights-based approaches to drug use. See more about the #Faith4HarmReduction approach, a unique initiative to build bridges between harm reduction services, the community perspectives of people who use drugs, and faith-based communities.

Born from conversations with communities of faith, harm reduction organisations, and network of people who use drugs, #Faith4HarmReduction fulfils a unique role as convener, community mobiliser, and capacity builder, fostering innovative-and previously untapped-cross-sector collaborations to expand and strengthen harm reduction in principle, practice, and policy.

Against a backdrop of the current situation in India, where 6.3% of people who inject drugs are believed to be living with HIV, of whom only 50% are aware of their status, this approach is deeply needed.

Read more in the press release below.

Introducing the Manual

In 2018, in collaboration with the United Religions Initiative (URI), India HIV/AIDS Alliance (or Alliance India) launched a unique initiative to build bridges between the harm reduction and faith communities called #Faith4HarmReduction. #Faith4HarmReduction is one of its kind programmes in India and the Asia region dedicated to building capacity and mobilizing community at the intersection of harm reduction and faith-based organizing. Born from conversations with communities of faith, harm reduction organizations, and network of people who use drugs, #Faith4Harm Reduction fills a unique role as convener, community mobilizer, and capacity builder, fostering innovative-and previously untapped-cross-sector collaborations to expand and strengthen harm reduction in principle, practice, and policy.

#Faith4Harm Reduction fosters opportunities for the co-creation of spiritual community and relationship building in partnership with people who use drugs and other harm reduction community leaders. Through the hosting of events and a growing national network of #Faith4Harm Reduction leaders who provide peer to peer support, information sharing, and spiritual care for the harm reduction movement, Faith in Harm Reduction strengthens spiritual resources for harm reduction and intersectional healing and justice movements.

This toolkit is a part of the right’s based approach to healthcare movement that situates drug use and treatment in a right to life, right to health care and right to be heard framework. The community-centered grassroots model of drug prevention, treatment, care and harm reduction is being henceforth seen from the health and spiritual perspective.

The manual is a first step that intertwines the concept of righteousness, insaniyat (humanity) and sewa (service) found widely across all religions to theologically highlight the narrative of harm reduction in various faith traditions. Within the framework of righteousness most faith traditions as shared below prevent or undermine the use of drugs not because of its association to committing a sinful act and interalia the moral and cultural context; but for reasons of health, wellbeing and peace. The quality of righteousness hence is taken as an individual that should perform necessary and indispensable acts that make oneself a responsible part of society.

As shared below various hymns, scriptural verses, quotations, stories and scientific data have been used to develop a better understanding about “basics of drugs”, “drug use”, “people who use drugs” and the individuality of the person consuming it as distinct entities to be able to question the stigma associated with the issue. Thereby targeting the root causes of stigma and taboo that make healthcare and harm reduction more inaccessible, leave alone minimum standards of care.

In no way does this document claim to be exhaustive, it is only a living document that seeks to evolve with the guidance and blessings and support of faith-based organizations, members of the drug-using community and/or service providers/advocates from the relevant fields – i.e., drug prevention, treatment, care, harm reduction, HIV prevention and in prisons - as they join to strengthen the movement. #Faith4HarmReduction is an effort to support and nourish not just the community workers who dedicate their lives passionately to the cause; but also religious and spiritual guides, healers, influencers of moral behavior and creators of belief systems that are impacting millions of people every day.

The aforementioned statistics in absolute terms are not just enough to highlight the worrisome gap between the care required and care given; but also the inequality and injustice that people who use drugs suffer from further preventing the best scientific and community-friendly interventions from reaching those who need them the most i.e., women who use drugs, young people and incarcerated populations. The interconnected nature of this issue with problems of education, gender and poverty calls for the need of a holistic approach.

Further, a lack of consensus on the minimum standards of care has contributed to a considerable rise in “nonscientific, inhuman and insensitive” approaches to dealing with health concerns associated with drug use ranging from basic awareness/prevention programmes to the traditional ‘drug treatment or rehabilitation centers”. Documented and undocumented stories of people who are living on the margins of society have time and again shared the inhumane and gruesome treatment given in community settings, institutional facilities and in prisons leading to a significant rise in morbidity and mortality linked with HIV, viral hepatitis, opioid overdose, TB, and even suicides.

The manual then seeks to situate the framework of prevention, treatment, care and harm reduction within a bottom-up model of community-driven needs; that calls for humanizing and empowering communities of people who use drugs. It is a call to revisit the existing frameworks and enable people’s leadership. It is a structured approach to devise “health (and harm reduction) for all” based solutions and shift from the knee jerk reaction of banning and using punitive measures by state institutions to control a problem. The pedagogy hence seeks to revisit ideas on the following from the outsider community perspective.

  • Right to life, ensuring dignity and human rights and access to community-friendly care and harm reduction services 
  • Role of society in adopting a health-, rights-, and harm reduction-based approach
  • Information and awareness dissemination modalities for normalizing the need for “community care”
  • Minimum standards of services and care

In this process, non-traditional and unconventional stakeholders such as faith-based organizations and spiritual institutions who have often not been able to find a significant place in the plethora of literature on drug use are seen as the locus of influence. The manual is seen rather as a beginning to building synergies with the faith leaders and institutions by building them as harm reduction champions, leverage from their sphere of influence, highlight their strengths, effectiveness and ensure the sustainability of faith-led harm reduction. It is not an exhaustive list of institutions or a complete spiritual guide but a comprehensive framework to highlight the significant yet unnoticed changes that they have been bringing on the ground for a long time now in many parts of the world.

Download the full manual below.