Urgent Message to Harm Reduction International Supporters

Colleagues and friends,


We are writing to update you on some urgent and serious developments here at Harm Reduction International.


From 2006—2012, Harm Reduction International benefitted from a generous core funding grant from the UK Department for International Development (DFID).  This core funding was instrumental in building IHRA from a conference organising NGO into a global leader in harm reduction, HIV and human rights research, policy and advocacy, while helping emerging harm reduction networks to grow and maintaining our role as the host of the international harm reduction conference. In short, it enabled our evolution from the International Harm Reduction Association of ten years ago to Harm Reduction International as we know it today. 


The generous support of DFID over the past 6 years enabled us to make significant contributions to the global harm reduction movement, including:

  • Establishing the Global State of Harm Reduction project, now the only independent programme monitoring the international implementation of, and donor funding for, HIV-related harm reduction.
  • Establishing and/or helping to build five new and influential harm reduction networks - the International Network of People who Use Drugs, the European Harm Reduction Network, the Middle East and North Africa Harm Reduction Association, Youth RISE and the Caribbean Harm Reduction Coalition - developmental support that has been instrumental in securing millions of new dollars in funding for these and other networks over the course of the six years.
  • Establishing access to harm reduction as a component of the right to health in international law under the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, and under the Convention on the Rights of the Child.
  • Contributing to a substantially improved international political environment for harm reduction, including playing an instrumental role in landmark resolutions of the UN Commission on Narcotic Drugs on human rights, HIV, women who use drugs and civil society participation.
  • Driving the UN Office on Drugs and Crime to establish much stronger guidelines and practices in relationship to human rights within its programming and funding as a consequence of our human rights research.
  • Holding 5 successful international harm reduction conferences in major cities around the world, providing training, knowledge exchange and networking opportunities for over 4,000 harm reductionists from over 80 countries.

As of 2013, the bilateral DFID funding that had previously supported HRI and other UK based global civil society organisations is being on-granted via the new Robert Carr Civil Society Networks Fund (RCNF).  As a result, HRI and other global networks that had been receiving DFID funding directly had to instead compete for core funding through this new donor mechanism.


Unfortunately, for reasons that have yet to be communicated by the fund management agency, the RCNF has rejected our bid outright and in its entirety. Others in our sector have also been badly affected though this process, including some of the networks HRI helped establish under the DFID grant. However, this decision will have a disproportionate impact on HRI versus organisations approaching the RCNF for new funding, as it represents a massive drop in our existing budgeted income.


To put this in perspective, this represents the loss of almost the entirety of our HIV research, policy and advocacy funding, almost all funding to support the strengthening of civil society and the development of new harm reduction networks and drug user organisations, and almost all of our core funding to support key management, administrative, IT and overhead costs.


Fortunately, for those planning to attend and take part in the International Harm Reduction Conference in Vilnius in June 2013, the conference will not be affected, as this runs on an entirely separate budget to the rest of our operations. The conference has received nearly 1,000 abstracts, and is attracting strong donor support and sponsorship, and commitments from high level speakers. We expect the event to sell out and be a major success for ourselves and our partner, the Eurasian Harm Reduction Network. 


Our human rights team also remains fully funded through the Open Society Foundations, and we will continue to advocate for harm reduction through that programme of work. We also continue to receive project funding from various sources, including the European Commission and the Community Action for Harm Reduction (CAHR) project.


However, while our conference and these other projects are not affected, this funding gap will have a serious impact on our public health and networking programmes, our research and advocacy on financing for HIV and harm reduction programmes for people who use drugs and on key core operations.  Unless we are able to quickly attract new sources of funding in the coming months to fill these gaps, the consequences will include:

  • The end of the Global State of Harm Reduction project, including the end of ongoing monitoring of national harm reduction scale up, and international donor investment
  • The end of most support activities for harm reduction networking and civil society strengthening, including the provision of small grants, travel scholarships and HRI staff time to assist our partners with writing/reviewing reports, submissions, grant applications and data requests. It will also have a serious impact on our ability to provide scholarships to harm reduction networks to attend our international conference.
  • Significantly reduced organisational visibility and influence at multi-lateral meetings and UN forums, and no ability to fund partner organisations to participate such meetings. This will significantly reduce our impact on the development of political resolutions and normative guidance on HIV and harm reduction, which will have a particularly negative impact in the context of the UNAIDS target for 50% reduction in new infections amongst people who use drugs

It may also include redundancies and/or cuts to pay or hours of work for some staff, including the Executive Director and Deputy Director.


In the immediate term, we will be reconsidering our proposed research and advocacy plans for 2013, as well as assessing what support we can continue to offer our partners. For those of you working with our public health team, or who benefit from support from us via partnerships on various activities, please contact us about our joint work so we can manage the fallout of this decision as best we can.


We are optimistic that we can work to repair the damage to our organisation and continue our contribution to the broader harm reduction sector.  We are reaching out to new donors, in particular to ensure that the Global State of Harm Reduction project can continue.


We ask you to please bear with us in the coming months as we adjust to this change in our circumstances.


For our friends and supporters wishing to support our organisation through this challenging time, we welcome with much gratitude new memberships, renewal of old memberships and contributions (www.ihra.net/members/payment). We would also like to thank our existing funders for their ongoing support.


We look forward to seeing you all in Vilnius in June 2013.


In solidarity,



John Peter Kools



Rick Lines

Executive Director


Prof Pat O’Hare