MENAHRA Conference at a glance

MENAHRA Conference at a glance

Under the title "Break the barriers ... Build the future" MENAHRA concluded its Second Regional Conference on Injecting Drug Use Harm Reduction. The Conference venue was Hilton - Metropolitan in Sin El Fil - Lebanon, from 12 to 15 November 2013.

223 participants attended from 24 countries that majority of them were from the Middle East and North Africa. The conference compiled attendees from different backgrounds which title might not show to be clearly compatible sometimes but they ended in fact by becoming collaborating and networking with each other, the attendees were PWUD, outreach workers, peer educators, policy makers, police, Religious leaders, Health professionals, Lawyers, Civil society organizations professionals and directors, social workers, nurses, physicians, researchers, UN officers, media professionals, etc.

In this context, and prior to the Conference MENAHRA organized an advocacy event in the Lebanese prison in cooperation with "Justice and Mercy "; Lebanese NGO active on awareness in Roumieh prison. The event was largely covered by the Media. It targeted inmates' drug users with whom a movie, produced by ZAD production and supported by MENAHRA and WHO, was screened. The movie is titled "The Alternative" which is about a psychiatrist who advocates for Opioid Substitution Treatment (OST) in Egypt and whose idea is not accepted by the society and the policy makers.

Also prior to the Conference on Tuesday November 12, a donors and partners meeting was organized by MENAHRA, the meeting gathered a number of civil society and drug users representatives, UN and International NGO representatives in addition to a number of donors. The meeting ended with a number of recommendations on removing the barriers to fund harm reduction in the MENA and to put this topic on donors' agenda. The main recommendations topics stressed the need to fund and support policies on Harm Reduction, OST treatment, scale up of services and support of new centers, outreach programs and to secure technical and financial support for HR programs including refugees and to support and increase studies in the MENA.

The conference was launched in the afternoon of the same day, the launching happened under the Patronage of His Excellency the Minister of Health of Lebanon, Mr. Ali Hassan Khalil, and a number of partners contributed to this event in addition to a testimonial from an ex-drug user who demonstrated courage in her speech and presentation titled "Filthy Icon" and how she overcame her problem thanks to the Opioid substitution treatment (OST). The Lebanese flash mob folklore took place during the launch of the event to change the seriousness of the environment which was appreciated by the attendees.

The three other days of the Conference went smoothly, people showed their interested in the multiple sessions that tackled almost all HR topics: policy making, religion and harm reduction, youth, law enforcements, refugees, outreach and peer education, support groups, OST, researches and studies, financing and supporting HR, new funding model of GFATM. In addition to a number of workshops that were organized on harm reduction, advocacy, overdose management, organizing drug users and support groups. The Dialogue space area was very active with delegates; the topics discussed and tackled were very rich and practical such as ARV crisis that was presented by WHO, the Knowledge hubs activities, RANAA's activities, example from Portugal on legalizing HR, the society perception on HR.

A film festival took place during the two first days where 10 movies were screened from the region and few were from outside MENA, the most attended and watched movie was "BEN"'s which is the story of a young man who screened himself during his drug use journey that ended with an overdose and his death. This movie drew the media attention that interviewed Ben's mother who were attending the Conference and explained to the audience the sufferance that Ben went through and how the parents were supportive to him.

Not to forget the side events that took place during the conference: the UNODC, UNAIDS and IDLO side meeting on Police leadership in Harm reduction, the launch of the arabic version of the Good Practice Guide by MENAHRA and International HIV/AIDS Alliance, the launch of the Situation Assessment of HR in MENA -2012 by MENAHRA, the side meetings of MENANPUD group, MENAHRA members and RANAA members, in addition to a number of another side networking meetings between attendees.

In the Middle of the Conference, MENAHRA honoured the participants and tried to release their stress by inviting them to an official diner that took place in a Lebanese traditional restaurant where everyone enjoyed dancing on Lebanese and Arabic songs.

The conference took an end on Friday; the closing session of the conference was introduced by the members of the Board of Directors of MENAHRA from Iran, Morocco, and Egypt. The WHO, UNAIDS and UNODC speeches mentioned the importance progress that happened since the last Conference until now at the level of HR which was clearly considered and evident during the current Conference.

MENAHRA acknowledges all the contributors to the success of this Conference including SIBA volunteers, Eventa, Saad Tours, Hilton Metropolitan hotel, Media sponsors, partners, sponsors and supporters, funders, civil society organizations, the MENAHRA Board of directors and the great team of MENAHRA.

Hopefully to see you all in the Next Conference!

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