Cambodian needle exchange loses it's license

There has been a sharp increase of drug users sharing needles in Phnom Penh after one of only two NGO’s that was legally allowed to distribute clean needles in the capital lost its Needle and Syringe Program (NSP) license.

The NGO has been operating since 2004 under the name of Korsang with the main goal of offering harm reduction services to drug users and sex workers in Phnom Penh in an attempt to reduce HIV/Aids transmission rates. But after their license to distribute needles expired on January 1st they have been prevented from providing their core service which is the NSP. Interviews of drug addicts conducted by Korsang revealed that many users had started sharing needles again since January 1st since they have no access to clean ones. Holly Bradford Korsang’s founder said “there has been no consistent access to sterile injection equipment since our licence was not renewed,”

Tension had been building between Korsang and the government since Korsan and another charity that works with street children were asked to provide patients for drug trials. The trials involved a little known Vietnamese herbal formula called Bong Sen and the groups complained to their international donors saying that they felt that they were being forced to provide people. The drug Bong Sen is an unlicensed treatment for opioid addiction made by the Vietnamese manufacturer Ben Tra Fataco which states that it has no side affects and that after treatment patients make a recovery in 5 to 10 days. There have also been cases of drug users being arrested on the streets and be forced to take part in these trials. In reference to the arbitrary detention of drug users for the trial Human Rights Watch has said that “the use of coercive tactics to put drug users on a wholly unknown and unproven ‘cure' for drug dependency violates the most fundamental principles of medical ethics and human rights.”

Since the license expired on January 1st there has also been a rise in daily street sweeps by the authorities, this has dispersed many drug addicts all over the city. This is making it hard for the other NGO that provides NSP to reach all the people that require their services.

Supporters of needle exchange programs say that is a vital tool in the fight against HIV/Aids. Cambodia currently has one of the highest HIV/Aids prevalence rates in Asia and although transmission seems to be primarily through the sex trade Introvenous Drug Users (IDU’s) are a high risk group.The Global Fund which endorses NSP and funds some of Korsang's services expressed concern in reducing the amount of available clean needles in Phnom Penh.