Presenting author: Mohammad Omar Faruque
Presenting author biography:
One of the pioneers, having over two decades of experience designing and leading harm reduction programs in Bangladesh. He is a well-known advocate for the rights of people who use drugs. He led the formation of several community-based groups, notably the Network of People Who Use Drugs (NPUD) in Bangladesh.
Community is for the community: "One Meal Per Day" Initiative by the Network of People Who Use Drugs (NPUD), Bangladesh during the COVID-19 pandemic
Mohammad Omar Faruque, Shahed Ibne Obaed, Md. Abu Taher, Saima Khan
Only the community stands by its members in times of dire need and adversity, making them more resilient and committed to the cause.
The COVID-19 pandemic had a significant impact on drug users in Bangladesh. People who use drugs (PWUD) could not move from one spot to another or even stand on the streets during lockdowns since regulations were in place to prevent interactions and exposure. PWUDs who had to live on the street suffered constant hunger and fear, with severe withdrawal symptoms.
According to a recent study, almost all PWUD claimed that the pandemic decreased their income; 30% of PWUD lost all sources of income, and needle and syringe sharing increased due to increasing drug costs. 69% of PWUD reported harassment by law enforcement and neighbours. 92% of women who use drugs were victims of gender-based violence, and almost all were physically abused.
Without considering the risk of COVID-19 infection, the NPUD had started "one meal a day," an effective emergency food distribution program for street-based PWUD. NPUD identified the PWUD who were experiencing severe hunger and needed food "now" and began the "one meal a day" initiative with funds provided by its members and well-wishers. Almost immediately, UNAIDS, Principal Recipients and partners of the Global Fund-supported HIV programme, the National AIDS/STD Programme, and UNODC came forward to support the initiatives. Through this initiative, NPUD served 15,750 meals in two months.
Outcomes and Implications:
The NPUD is an alliance of seventeen Bangladeshi community-based organizations. Its strength, courage, and advantages were often undervalued. Members of the NPUD are stereotyped as incompetent. However, despite the lack of a so-called financial and organizational structure, NPUD demonstrated that only the community is there for its members in times of extreme need.