BACKGROUND: China’s initial response to drug use and HIV was largely ineffective but has improved with recent government endorsement of harm reduction interventions. This paper examines the views of senior key informants inside China who articulated core needs and objectives for the development of a harm reduction advocacy strategy.
METHODS: Thirty-nine key informants (KI) were interviewed, representing 19 stakeholder bodies selected from the Chinese government public health sector, public security sector, international agencies such as WHO, UNODC and UNAIDS, and international non-government organisations.
RESULTS: The concept of harm reduction is widely understood and considered valid. Support for harm reduction is increasing, but KIs perceived an imbalance between the rapid expansion of methadone maintenance treatment programs over needle and syringe programs and other interventions. Challenges for harm reduction identified by KIs included: policy inconsistencies; lack of skilled resources, training programs and technical capacity; poor coverage of interventions; and gaps in the sharing of information. KIs suggested numerous ways to strengthen the capacity of the government and communities to reduce drug related harm.
DISCUSSION: Increased acceptance of harm reduction in China, particularly among public security, implies a new level of optimism towards addressing the HIV epidemic among drug users, and parallels an impressive expansion of harm reduction interventions. Nevertheless, scaling up a response to the ongoing dual epidemic of drug use and HIV remains an enormous challenge. With appropriate technical education and training, ongoing advocacy, and a cohesive, coordinated multi-sectoral effort, the capacity of the government and community to adopt, support and promote measures to reduce HIV and other drug related harm would be markedly strengthened.