23 April 2024

Annual Report 2023

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2023 was a special year. For the first time in four years, we were able to convene the Harm Reduction International Conference (HR23) in Melbourne, Australia in April. We launched our Divest/Invest campaign calling on donors and governments to divest from the unjust drug war and invest in programmes that prioritise community, health and justice. We increased our focus on challenging the harms that result from incarceration and continued to advocate for drug policies that uphold dignity, health and rights.


HR23 was our most expansive and intersectional conference yet. The theme of the conference, Strength in Solidarity, shaped the event, a thread  through the plenaries, panels, workshops and dialogue space.

The conference catalysed the uptake of drug checking services around Australia and boosted political engagement on harm reduction in Victoria, New South Wales and the Australian Capital Territory. Former Prime Minister Helen Clark and our Executive Director Naomi Burke-Shyne led the first ever media tour of the Melbourne overdose prevention centre – shining a light on the life-saving services and person-centred healthcare available to clients. We held up leadership on the latest reforms to capital punishment for drug offences in Malaysia, showcased groundbreaking French research on the health and public order benefits of overdose prevention sites, and hosted the launch of a USD31 million investment in viral hepatitis and harm reduction by Unitaid.

Media coverage of HR23 was the most extensive for at least 15 years, with wide-ranging coverage on the national, regional, and international level. There were dozens of pieces across online and print media, radio and podcasts, and leading media outlets. HR23 made it to the prestigious Radio National Breakfast Show and TV’s 7.30 Report, The Guardian Australia, The Sydney Morning Herald, AAP, The Daily Telegraph, and The . Several stories were featured in international outlets including the Washington Post.


We launched our Divest/Invest campaign in 2023 which builds on our past advocacy for a divestment from the drug war and an investment in harm reduction, social and community programmes.

People working on racial justice, criminal legal reform, decolonising global health, women’s rights, sex workers’ rights, and LGBTQIA+ rights are our natural allies in challenging systems of oppression, exclusion, criminalisation, stigma, and discrimination. With this campaign, we are working to build a broad and diverse coalition of people from allied social justice movements calling on governments and donors to divest from punitive approaches. When we divest from the drug war, we free up essential funds to invest in more effective approaches which can lead to healthier, safer societies.

We launched www.investinjustice.net to house campaign materials including new videos and case studies from India, Jamaica, and the US illustrating examples of communities divesting from punitive approaches. A campaign highlight to date has been our research revealing that wealthy governments spent close to $1 billion from their aid budgets on the global war on drugs, between 2012 and 2021.

Hepatitis and Harm Reduction

People who drugs are at greater risk of acquiring viral hepatitis B and C. This can be related to sharing drug use equipment as well as through sexual activities. Harm reduction interventions are essential to the global commitment to eliminate hepatitis C by 2030.

Harm Reduction International’s work at the intersection of viral hepatitis and harm reduction has supported an important surge of action towards 2030 global targets for viral hepatitis elimination.

With Burnet Institute and partners, we convened more than 100 experts at a pre-conference event, on the sidelines of the Harm Reduction International Conference 2023. The event disseminated global data and guidelines, and supported strategic planning to integrate hepatitis interventions into HIV programmes.

Our Viral Hepatitis Data repository, undertaken with the support of the World Health Organization (WHO), remains an essential global source of data for advocacy.

We joined forces with the World Hepatitis Alliance and the Clinton Health Access Initiative in a  Commentary in the Lancet urging all funders working with affected communities and specifically in HIV, harm reduction, and maternal and child health, to integrate viral hepatitis into their programmes to ensure that they are supporting equitable, people-centred programming.

We focused much of our advocacy on making the case for investment in hepatitis and harm reduction, contributing to real changes in the services available around the world.

Drug policy & human rights

In 2023 we pushed for drug policy to be included in human rights discussions at the international level. Our regular briefings create opportunities for community and civil society around the world to engage with international human rights mechanisms. This work ensures diverse voices are heard by Member States at the UN Human Rights Council and plays a critical role in the shaping of human rights norms and standards.

Harm Reduction International collaborated with partners to make over 20 statements and submissions to UN bodies highlighting human rights violations committed in the name of the war on drugs. Our statements emphasise racial justice, the rights of people deprived of liberty, and challenge the overreach of police powers in the name of drug control. These are resources helping to mainstream drug policy within these human rights discussions

Death penalty for drugs

We have monitored the use of the death penalty for drug offences worldwide since our first ground-breaking publication on this issue in 2007.  We brought together an incredible line-up of speakers at a high-level side event held during at the Harm Reduction International Conference 2023 (HR23). The panel was opened by His Excellency Tsakhia Elbegdorj, Former President of Mongolia and Commissioner, International Commission against the Death Penalty. He gave a powerful address which recounted his country’s journey to abolishing the death penalty. We were also joined by Malaysia’s Minister of Law Deputy Minister of Law, Ramkarpal Singh. His HR23 address came on the heels of historic reform in the country, as Malaysia’s Parliament officially abolished the mandatory death penalty days before the conference.

Our unique global monitoring calls for accountability and ongoing work with partners for the abolition of the death penalty for drug offences remain vitally relevant.

harm reduction funding

The National Leaders Convening in June 2023 ignited action for domestic funding for harm reduction. Along with UNAIDS, Rumah Cemara (Indonesia), Vocal Kenya, the South African Network of People Who Use Drugs (SANPUD), Recovering Nepal and YouthRISE Nigeria, we convened government leaders to ignite interest, advance budget advocacy and share innovations. This was the first gathering of its kind. It focused on strengthening shared ambition for increased domestic investment in national harm reduction responses.

The National Leaders Convening created space for distinguished speakers including government officials and community and civil society leaders to engage in closed-door discussion to address opportunities for, and barriers to domestic public financing for harm reduction. The convening consolidated commitments to addressing the funding gap for harm reduction; and facilitated discussion on better utilisation of existing funds.

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