Julius Nyanda joined the International Working Group team at the end of March, as our Uganda representative, just in time to attend this year’s United Nations (UN) Commission on Narcotic Drugs (CND) as part of Youth RISE’s team. Here is his experience, from an interview with our International Communications Officer, Ruby Lawlor.

Have you heard of the CND or UN bodies before this year?

Yes! The UN has been a resounding pillar in Uganda’s advocacy against human rights violations in the past years and a huge body in running projects with the government, so nearly every Ugandan is aware of the existence of the UN in the country and equally as a universal body. I’ve heard about the CND over the past few years but this year has been my first experience of attending one. However, I believe partly due to low levels of advocacy in harm reduction or drug policy work in the country, the CND might be well known only to individuals concerned with this work.

Have you engaged with the CND or UN bodies before this year?

This year provided my first experience at the CND, and I should say it has been a wonderful one. Before this, I had partly followed the last years through reviewing CND blogs and social media pages sharing updates about what was happening there. My previous engagement with a UN body, was at a virtual conference with the UN body concerned with climate change and disaster preparedness while advocating about the dangers of climate change.

Which side events did you attend, and which was your favourite?

I was able to attend a total of twelve side events with plenary sessions. The side events provided a platform to share experiences, study findings and important recommendations to address drug use challenges, unfavourable drug policies and treatment, and prevention and care among others for people who use drugs (PWUD). My favourite was the side event “Impacts of Covid-19 on young people who use drugs” organised by SSDP in partnership with YouthRise.

Why was this your favourite?

This side event explored and provided a platform to discuss experiences of young people who use drugs (YPWUD) during the Covid-19 pandemic and presented research findings about the changing realities of young people who work with PWUD. It was enthusing to learn how YPWUD are coping despite the pandemic and what treatment, care and harm reduction interventions can be specifically tailored to them to address the impacts of drug use. The research study findings provided conclusive results on which appropriate evidence-based recommendations/interventions can be derived to address drug use challenges.

What was it like to attend the CND this year in the online format?

Amazing and informative! The online format is particularly inclusive because it covers for the difficulties usually experienced by delegates in regards to travel and obtaining VISAs which might be quite restrictive for some countries. In addition to allowing for a big attendance virtually; participants could easily switch to sessions of their choice with ease. The only set back of the online format is the variations in time zone which might be quite troubling for some countries and the limited space for networking.

How well or not well do you think youth were represented during the CND?

Personally, I believe the youth were well represented at the CND. With many youth led organisations organising and participating in sessions and many study findings shared involving the youth, resulted in a very good representation. Many of the recommendations made by the panellists to address drug use challenges were equally inclusive of the youth. However, there is need to separately characterise the drug use burden, harm reduction interventions, prevention, treatment and care for the youth as the magnitude of the situation often gets crowded out while looking at the general picture in discussions.

Did attending the CND make you any more interest in a particular area of drug policy?

Yes, I feel my interest in harm reduction interventions has been amplified. Equally coming from a healthcare background, I found a new interest in prevention, treatment and continuum of care for HIV and other related infections among PWUD that I hope to build upon; one important aspect of which is the provision of an enabling environment requiring efforts against stigma, discrimination and gender-based violence.

How did you find the African region was represented at the CND?

The African region was well represented. Several sessions were organised by indigenous organisations in Africa or working within Africa with discussions/study findings focusing on Africa as a continent or a case study involving an African country. Recommendations were also made to suit the African setting in addressing the drug use in Africa; equally there was good representation as panellists and session participants. Overall, a good representation however all countries weren’t captured.