Groups advocating awareness and acceptance of harm reduction by society come together under one umbrella organization to promote the adoption of harm reduction strategies by the Philippine government.
Harm reduction is a public health strategy that was developed initially for adults with substance abuse problems for whom abstinence was not feasible. These include using a nicotine patch instead of smoking, consuming water while drinking alcohol, using substances in a safe environment with someone they trust, and needle exchange programs for people who inject drugs.
“It refers to a range of practical strategies aimed at lessening the negative social and physical consequences associated with particularly risky human behaviors,” said Prof. Ron Christian Sison, Lead Convenor of the Harm Reduction Alliance of the Philippines (HARAP), a national peer-run advocacy and capacity-building association that aims to promote harm reduction as part of the country’s public health policy, for the benefit of every individual’s right to well-being.
Harm reduction, however, doesn’t just apply to the use of substances. “We engage in harm reduction in our everyday lives to minimize a risk, such as wearing a helmet when riding a bike, fastening our seatbelt when riding a vehicle, and using a condom when having sex, among others,” Sison noted.
A harm reduction approach called tobacco harm reduction (THR) has recently come to the fore. In THR, adults who are unable or do not want to quit smoking are encouraged to switch to less harmful smoke-free alternatives.
HARAP’s member organizations include the Philippine Advocates for Road Safety (PARS) a network of road users, individuals and groups committed to advocating for road safety in the country; The Red Whistle, an advocacy group that aims to empower and inspire people to come together and help each other in the battle against HIV and AIDS; 2030 Youth Force, a regional youth-led network in Asia-Pacific that brings the 2030 Agenda and the Sustainable Development Goals to all; LoveYourself, a community of volunteers that provides HIV testing, counseling, treatment, and life coaching in the Philippines; and The Vapers Philippines, a consumer advocacy group that aims to educate the public about the distinction between e-cigarettes and regular tobacco products and the former’s potential as a less harmful alternative.
“Harm reduction policies or programs are supported by 84 countries worldwide, with 74 countries having explicit supportive reference to harm reduction in national policy documents. HARAP is hopeful that the Philippines will follow suit,” Sison said.
According to Sison, HARAP builds on the community by empowering individuals through education, capacity building and skills training, which allows the concept and practice of harm reduction to eventually become far-reaching, and its benefits most felt by many.
HARAP provides a united front and an avenue for various harm reduction groups in the Philippines to collaborate and support each other’s goals, said Sison. “Ultimately, we work towards the awareness and acceptance of harm reduction by society, and the adoption of harm reduction strategies by the Philippine government. We are working to provide proposals for the inclusion of harm reduction as a national policy.”
HARAP sponsors and organizes regional and national fora and conferences which gather leading experts and allow for a worthwhile exchange of best practices globally, regionally, and nationally. It recently hosted the 2nd Philippine Harm Reduction Online Forum last December 4, 2020. Prof. Tikki Pangestu, visiting professor at the Yong Loo Lin School of Medicine at the National University of Singapore and former Director for Research Policy & Cooperation of the World Health Organization (WHO), delivered the keynote speech where he presented the global picture on regulations for smoke-free products such as e-cigarettes and heated tobacco products (HTPs).
Local experts who spoke during the forum were Dr. Arleen Reyes, auditor, Asia Pacific Dental Federation; Prof. Joy P. Calayo, Chief Medical Technologist, San Lazaro Hospital; Asst. Prof. Leonardo Guevarra, Jr., Department of Biochemistry, University of Santo Tomas; and Ms. Aimee Gonzaga, program director and child protection specialist, Center of HOPE Laguna.
“We are committed to ensuring that Filipinos are made aware about and educated on harm reduction, its applications, and practices in their daily lives. We believe that Filipinos have the right to be made aware of their options that may lessen the negative social and physical consequences associated with risky human behaviors. HARAP also stands for the social inclusion of marginalized communities, which oftentimes are the main beneficiaries of harm reduction practices,” Sison said`.