Disclaimer: The blog posts in this series reflect the views of the interviewees and do not necessarily represent those of the United Nations, including UNDP, or UN Member States; nor those of SCALE Initiative partners such as UNAIDS, USAID, PEPFAR and The Global Fund.

Next month, the SCALE Initiative will be publishing an Evidence Review conducted by UNDP that identifies 14 tactics, strategies and approachesi that have been used to reform or mitigate the impact of punitive and discriminatory laws and policies on access to HIV services for people living with HIV and key populationsii

Over the next few months, we will be speaking to a number of national key population leaders and representatives from around the world to hear directly from them: what does law reform look like in your community at this moment in time? What methods are you using to make progress, and why? What lessons can we share with peers in other communities and countries? 

This week, we are talking with Aniedi Akpan, Chair of the Drug Harm Reduction Advocacy Network (DHRAN) in Nigeria

Aniedi Akpan

1. What are the main issues you are fighting for?

The decriminalization of drug use and to end discrimination against key populations, with a focus on people who use drugs. 

2. How have your personal experiences informed your work and advocacy?

The experience of stigmatization, discrimination, self-stigma and exclusion on the basis of drug use has influenced my work. Having overcome the stigma due to information I have had the privilege of accessing on drug use and human rights, my work and advocacy is focused on providing information to people who use drugs on their human rights and mobilizing them to advocate for spaces in government and social decision making platforms.

3. What specific tactics or approaches have you used to tackle discriminatory and punitive laws at this specific time, and why?

Community mobilization of people who use drugs to advocate to important stakeholders for their right to health and dignity, at both national and sub-national committees and forums. This involves capacity building – and joint capacity building – for stakeholders and people who use drugs in relation to many topics, including human rights for people who use, evidence-based drug prevention, treatment and care and gender-sensitive harm reduction services. Establishing coalition, networks, and alliances through the establishment of the Nigeria Drug User Network (registered as Drug Harm Reduction Advocacy Network Nigeria) to advocate for the rights of people who use drugs. Building the evidence base through research and documentation in the form of community-led monitoring of harm reduction services to gather evidence for advocacy.

It is my belief that discriminatory and punitive laws are propounded, supported and enforced due to lack of information on the issue of drug use and the rights of those who use drugs by government, law enforcement and the public. It is further reinforced when the voices of people who use drugs are not heard. So, providing information to the stakeholders involved in a forum where the perspectives of the people who use drugs can be heard directly by them is the logical approach. 

Multi-stakeholder coordination meeting in Nigeria
Multi-stakeholder coordination meeting in Nigeria


4. What’s been one of the biggest obstacles you’ve faced, and how did you overcome it?


Time and time again the obstacles mostly relate to the dangerous legal and policy environments that we are trying to operate in. Whether it’s issues related to arrest, extortion and discrimination against people who use drugs, arrest of peer workers providing harm reduction services, or the direct seizing of harm reduction equipment and supplies like sterile needles and syringes, these types of actions hold us back.

With the relationship we have built with Law enforcement, we provide a list of intervention sites where harm reduction services are being provided to law enforcement and in cases where there are raids by other field officers who are not aware, we leverage on our relationship with the hierarchy of Law enforcement to effect release of the beneficiaries or peer workers arrested.


5. If you could share one piece of advice with your peers, what would it be?


When advocating with government officials think in terms of “What’s in it for me (WIIFM)” on the side of the government. This requires aligning your advocacy points with the objectives of your government. Better still, make sure your asks are backed by evidence.

Meeting Nigeria
Multi-stakeholder coordination meeting in Nigeria


For more information on the Drug Harm Reduction Advocacy Network, email Info@dhran.ng.  

i. The full list of tactics, strategies and approaches as follows: Community mobilization of key populations and people living with HIV; Direct action; Building the evidence base through research and documentation; Legal and policy environment monitoring; Establishing coalition, networks, and alliances; Strategic litigation; Engaging with international and regional processes and bodies; Access to and provision of legal aid services; Key population and/or civil society engagement with decision-makers; Use of information and communication technology; Media-based strategies; Enforcing protective laws; Training and sensitization of duty bearers; Capacity building of rights holders.
ii. UNAIDS considers gay men and other men who have sex with men, sex workers, transgender people, people who inject drugs and prisoners and other incarcerated people as the five main key population groups that are particularly vulnerable to HIV and frequently lack adequate access to services.

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