© Olivier Papegnies

Harm reduction: a public health approach based on human rights

Guides and themes
Access to health is a universal human right. Yet, because certain practices – such as sex work or drug use – or sexual orientation and gender identity are either criminalised or subject to moral disapproval, individuals not wanting or unable to change their behaviour are not in a position to fully exercise this right.

Social stigma and exclusion further increase the risks to which they are exposed: they foster the spread of transmitted diseases like HIV/Aids and other health problems and can lead to violence, social marginalisation and poverty. As an international medical organisation founded on values of solidarity, for over forty years Médecins du Monde – Doctors of the World (MdM) has adopted a pragmatic approach to its provision of assistance to such groups of people. Rather than denying them their identities and lifestyles, MdM works with them on creating solutions adapted to their specific needs to improve their health, provides them with treatment, health care, psychosocial support and prevention services and carries out initiatives aimed at fostering their independence. This approach is called Harm Reduction. It is not limited to medical issues but also encompasses the social and legal risks impacting people’s ability to exercise their right to health.


Discover what Risk Reduction represents through this guide written by Médecins du Monde teams.

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