Personal values, attitudes and misconceptions

To put harm reduction into practice, it is important to convey acceptance and support individuals to become the experts in their own lives. The service provider, regardless of their beliefs should not show disapproval of active drug use as it can destroy the therapeutic relationship and the individual’s sense of self worth.  For service providers to keep their motivation and dedication in this area of work, we must feel like we are making a difference. If individuals don’t change then we don’t feel like we are doing our work and we are failing the individual. The more we enforce these expectations of ourselves, the harder our work becomes increasing our chance of burn out and disengagement

Stigma and discrimination issues that can affect harm reduction strategies

Stigma refers to negative attitudes (prejudice) and negative behavior (discrimination). These attitudes and judgments can affect how we think about, behave and provide care to clients. “People with substance use and mental health problems are not normal or not like us; that they caused their own problems; or that they can simply get over their problems if they want to”.

Individual Engagement Strategies

UHRN Harm reduction providers work to build relationships with people to deliver the best possible service to individuals and the community. Effective client engagement recognizes the diversity of consumers of harm reduction supplies and services.  Services should understand why individuals are accessing harm reduction supplies and how best to support each person.  This means knowing how and why supplies are being used, being aware of the specific issues different individuals may face and by providing education, referrals and support to each person.

  • It is important that service providers be able to educate about:
  • Safer using practices
  • Safer sex practices
  • Addictions issues and supports
  • Recreational drug use
  • Culturally competent services and supports for marginalized peoples
  • Transgender issues and hormone injection practices
  • Identifying health issues
  • Local programs and services to support your clients

Individuals come first:

  • Always greet the person regardless of what else you are doing – make eye contact, smile, etc.
  • Be friendly
  • Thank people for coming in
  • Understand if the client is in a rush
  • Meet an individual’s needs: reducing the spread of infection:
  • Always give out what is asked for without judgment
  • Support secondary distribution
  • Ask people if they know how to use harm reduction supplies

Caring for our communities:

  • Always ask for or about returns
  • Harm reduction consumers are part of the community- returning used needles re-enforces that feeling
    • Thank people for returning needle
    • Ask if they have information to share about their community

Our health is Important:

  • Goal of the program–access to healthcare services
  • Important for people to know what resources are available
  • Understand what illness looks like – specific cues
  • Extremely sensitive issue
  • Always try to follow up with client

Respect is a two way street:

  • Consumers and service providers must be respectful to each other
  • Both staff and consumer should respect each other’s privacy. Staff should not share confidential information with outside services unless given permission to do so by the consumer.

Responding to a History of Abuse

Domestic violence (also referred to as intimate partner abuse) is a crime. It results from an imbalance of power and control over one’s partner. Domestic violence is primarily committed by men against women but also occurs in same sex relationships and by women against men. Domestic violence does not necessarily mean the person is physically battered or beaten. Abuse comes in many forms and can include various forms of mistreatment and cruelty such as:


  • Constant threatening
  • Psychological/emotional abuse,
  • Sexual abuse
  • Financial/material abuse
  • Spiritual and verbal abuse.

Goals in reducing harms associated with abuse:

  • To increase the safety for women and men who are being abused
  • To increase access to resources
  • To assist in the collection of relevant medical evidence should the client choose to engage in the legal process
  • Provide support and advocate for client safety

Families, Individual and Community

Harm reduction affects families, individuals and communities; building relationships at each level is essential Harm Reduction for Families and Caregivers health file for additional information related to harm reduction, families and your community

Community barriers will always exist. Heath care providers should take every opportunity possible to explain in clear culturally relevant terms the goals of their harm reduction strategies. Given the distrust that exists in various communities around drug related harm reduction initiatives, building community relations is an indispensable part of everyone’s role. Listen and learn from what the clients and the communities tell you.

The following are common barriers affecting harm reduction initiatives within communities:

  • Stigmas, myths and misconceptions
  • Drugs and behaviors
  • Politics
  • Lack of support
  • Lack of trust
  • Lack of funds

Building rapport and trust within the community is time consuming but is critical to the success of harm reductions initiatives.

 The following are individual barriers:

  • Negative attitudes, prejudices, homophobia, racism and sexism
  • Being judgmental toward  target populations
  • Lack of respect for individual choices, fear of change
  • Health condition

Uganda Harm Reduction Network (UHRN) is a Community Based Organisation, established in 2011, Reg No. WCBO/1253/11, found by former drug users, to provide a national platform and reduce the health, social and economic harms associated with “drug use”. We further seek to develop an enabling environment for the implementation and expansion of human right interventions for Drug Users (IDUs, Sex Workers and Youth) in Uganda in partnerships with other stakeholders as we strive for victory. Vision: “A Ugandan society that reorganizes and protects the health, social, economic and human rights of drug users”. Mission: “To reduce the health, social and economic harms associated with drug use to develop an enabling environment for the implementation and expansion of human right interventions for drug users in Uganda. Objectives: We work to: • Promote access to cancer screening, psychosocial support and comprehensive care (HIV, SRHR, TB, and Hepatitis B and C treatment). • Organize and equip drug users whose rights have been violated to take responsibility of their health, social, economic wellbeing and sustainability through economic empowerment trainings and functional adult literacy programmes. • Document and expose human rights violations against drug users and call for legal protection and engage in policy reforms on laws that negatively impact on drug users. • Build partnership, synergy and develop the leadership capacity of drug users to take charge of their program. • Promote the health, social economic and human rights of “drug users” in Uganda irrespective of their social, economic, academic, cultural or political background. • Promote safer sex education such as condom use, needle and syringe exchange program, comprehensive care and mechanism on how to deal with issues of overdose, trafficking and violence against drug users. • Call for an enabling environment and strengthen partnerships towards “drug users”. Core values for UHRN: The driving forces that guide all actions and practices in UHRN are:- • Social justice, protection and recognition in society • Love and respect for one another. • Support and care for one another • Honesty in all our undertakings • Empathy for each other as drug users • Sharing the available resources.


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