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What better time than now?

Author: Dr Nandini Vallath
27 April 2016

Dr Nandini Vallath, consultant for Trivandrum Institute of Palliative Sciences, a unit of Pallium India attended the 59th Session of the Commission on Narcotic Drugs (CND) in Vienna earlier this year. Dr Vallath reports on the event.

The CND consists of representatives of government departments of UN member states which meet annually to review drug policy mandates, discuss priorities for the year and reach a consensus on action points.

The CND session that was held in Vienna for the 59th time this March was special; it aimed at preparing a draft Outcome Document for the UN General Assembly Special Session (UNGASS) on Drugs that was subsequently held in April.

The last time that an UNGASS on Drugs was held was in 1998, when the global mandate on drug policies were strongly prohibitory and upheld the ‘war on drugs’ approach in its language and recommendations.

We are all aware of the decades of human suffering as a consequence of the mandates in terms of poor access and availability of essential medicines that come under international control.

Yet, I saw first-hand how time brings in new knowledge and experience, that questions earlier perspectives and transforms viewpoints.

In the few sessions that I listened to at the CND in Vienna, the atmosphere was vibrant with a new energy.

The Member States one after another recorded their official statements. To my surprise, most of them included at least one comment on the need for a humanitarian and developmental approach to the global drug problem and mentioned the need to address the issue of poor access and availability of controlled medicines.

In general, the Scandinavian and Latin American countries were the strongest advocates. India participated in the CND through high level officials of the Department of Revenue and the Director of Narcotics Control Division Sri Tiwari, and actively supported the reorientation of drug policies.

There were three side events addressing the specific need to improve access to essential controlled medicines:

  1. 'Resolving the Global Crisis of Untreated Pain by Improving Access to Controlled Medicines within the Framework of the Sustainable Development Goals', organised by the Governments of Lithuania, Panama and Mexico, the International Association for Hospice and Palliative Care and Human Rights Watch
  2. 'The public health elements of drug policy', hosted by the WHO
  3. 'Striving for equity in the treatment of pain', organised by the Government of the UK, International Doctors for Healthier Drug Policies, Pallium India and Kenya Hospice Palliative Care Association. I had the opportunity to speak on the advocacy efforts towards a healthier drug policy in India at this side event.

And sure enough, for the first time, ensuring the availability of and access to controlled substances for medical and scientific purposes was included as a new independent section in the Outcome Document of the UNGASS.

The recommendations for action emphasise collaborations: between government, UN agencies – WHO, UNODC, and INCB – and civil society at local and global levels.

In addition, it provides the advocacy framework for the countries for this interagency participatory action.

What better time than now, to go forth and engage with the government at the centre and the states to get the simplified policy implemented and get down to work on transforming the situation of access to pain relief in our country?

This article originally appeared on the Pallium India Blog. It is republished with permission. 

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