In Depth: Harm Reduction - Doctors of the World

In Depth: Harm Reduction

We Believe That Access To Healthcare Is A Fundamental Human Right 

Everyone deserves consistent access to quality medical care. But in many parts of the world, certain groups are marginalized by their communities because of their addiction to drugs or because they work in the sex industry.

Many end up barred from accessing health services, discriminated against when they go to a clinic, or too ashamed to seek help. We describe these groups as people at risk.


At Doctors of the World, we stand by the stigmatized and believe that accessing healthcare should be a fundamental human right for everyone. By being prevented from accessing care, these communities become especially vulnerable to infectious diseases such as HIV and Hepatitis C.

From Mexico to Myanmar, we work to advocate for these groups, to provide them with vital access to medical care, and on harm reduction strategies

Download Our Harm Reduction Booklet

For an overview of our harm reduction work from countries such as Tanzania to Russia, download our Harm Reduction Booklet.

HIV/AIDS and Hepatitis

300 million

People around the world have Hepatitis but are unaware



HIV is a virus that attacks the immune system, eventually causing AIDS if not treated with antiretroviral drugs. Over 35 million people have died from AIDS and 30% of people with HIV are still undiagnosed. HIV can be transmitted through unprotected sex, sharing needles during drug use and sometimes from mother to child.

In 1987, Doctors of the World opened the first free and anonymous health center for HIV sufferers in France and we’ve been working to combat the disease ever since. We work around the world to raise awareness about how HIV is transmitted, what people can do to protect themselves, and to increase communities’ access to antiretroviral drugs.



Hepatitis can be a deadly disease, but it is also easily preventable. Hepatitis C is an infection that is caused by a virus that is spread through contaminated blood. The most common way of getting Hepatitis C is by sharing needles and other equipment to inject drugs such as heroin. This means that drug users are especially vulnerable to the disease. Very rarely the disease can also be transmitted through unprotected sex. Preventing, treating and eliminating Hepatitis has always been one of our top priorities.

We began lobbying against Gilead’s patent for sofosbuvir, a drug that treats Hepatitis C, in 2015 and submitted a new patent opposition earlier this year. Gilead markets sofosbuvir as a treatment that costs around $86,000 per year – leaving many people unable to afford treatment.

Sex Workers

42 M

Sex workers globally

Doctors of the World has been operating projects to support and empower sex workers since 1991 in an effort to fight against the discrimination they face on a daily basis. There are an estimated 42 million sex workers in the world, and in the 110 countries where data is available, HIV prevalence amongst sex workers is 12 times higher than the general population. 


Sex workers are often barred from healthcare services because of the stigma associated with sex work. They are extremely vulnerable to experiencing violence and many countries still adopt punitive legal environments that leave sex workers unable to access healthcare. At Doctors of the World, we work every day to provide sex workers with the care they need, including tests for STI’s such as HIV and information about safe sex.

We also believe that sex workers should be involved in the development and implementation of policies that will affect them and their livelihoods. In our projects around the world we work with local NGO’s and government groups to advocate for the rights of sex workers and to protect them from marginalization and exploitation.

Drug Users

12 M

People inject drugs intravenously globally

Doctors of the World has been working and advocating on harm reduction for drug users since 1989, when we opened our first mobile unit to provide drug users with access to healthcare. Around the world 29.5 million people suffer from drug abuse and an estimated 12 million of them inject drugs intravenously.

Injecting drugs through needles exposes people to a wide variety of risks including the transmission of infectious diseases such as HIV and Hepatitis. Of the 12 million people who inject drugs, 1.6 million of them have HIV. Over half, 6.1 million, have Hepatitis C.

In many countries, people addicted to drugs are abandoned by their families and friends. Drug taking and addiction are seen as shameful or even a defect in a person’s personality. Punitive drug policy and the criminalization of drug use are some of the main reasons that drug users find it difficult to access healthcare. Many are also unaware of the health risks associated with intravenous drug use.

We distribute clean needle kits, inform users about the risks associated with drug use and provide screenings for diseases such as Hepatitis and HIV.

Support Our Work With People At Risk

If, like us, you believe that access to healthcare should be a fundamental human right for all, you can support our work by donating today.