I have followed with interest the exchange of views and flurry of letters to the editor about Korsang’s drop-in centre. Letters from Holly Bradford, Oum Rithy, Matt Curtis, Rotha Peng and Eleanor Roffman have contributed exceptionally to this debate. It is also excellent to note that the writers are supportive of a range of services for people who inject drugs, including needle exchange, which have all been shown to save lives and protect the public’s health.
I think, however, that there are still two issues that have been overlooked. The September 28 article says local residents perceive that crime has increased in the area and that this is somehow due to the drop-in centre policy. How accurate is that perception? Who has statistics on “crime” in the area, and how can it be said that it has indeed increased? Is it a crime to be seen injecting on the street? When more affluent injectors do this within their air-conditioned rooms, does this make it any more bearable? Who is the perpetrator and who is the victim here? As Holly Bradford so concisely puts it: “...If we close hospitals, people don’t stop getting sick.” Likewise, if Cambodian AIDS policy responses are any gauge, has closing brothels decreased prostitution, or has it driven it back onto streets and public parks?
When the deputy governor of Phnom Penh says the centre’s policy is “irresponsible”, what exactly does he mean? I would argue that it is the height of irresponsibility not to provide effective services for the most marginal of people in society.
Finally, Oum Rithy notes that “The concerns of the community are very real and very valid. Through a lack of structure and rules, Korsang is leaving the local community vulnerable to such things as people shooting up on the street before they enter the centre. This is not an exaggeration; this actually happens. No community and no children playing in the streets should be subjected to this.”
There seems to be some misunderstanding here of what Korsang is in control of. Korsang cannot be responsible for things that happen outside the confines of the drop-in centre. Saying that this is due to a lack of structure and rules at Korsang is misinformed and inaccurate. In an ideal world, of course, no community or children should be subjected to the sight of people shooting up, or to the sight of other children selling sex on the streets, or to news of gang rape, for that matter.
Surely the community (in this case, the neighbourhood surrounding the drop-in centre) should be provided with more balanced information about the drug-use situation, the activities of the centre, the effectiveness of such services and the role they themselves should play in HIV prevention. I wonder what our other partners in HIV/AIDS prevention and care in the country – such as UNAIDS, the NACD, the NAA, WHO and UNODC can say about this?
Vic Salas, consultant
HIV/AIDS, health and development
Send letters to: email@example.com or PO Box 146, Phnom Penh, Cambodia. The Post reserves the right to edit letters to a shorter length.
The views expressed above are solely the author’s and do not reflect any positions taken by The Phnom Penh Post.