Putting people first: UNODC Executive Director visits drug treatment centre and women's prison in Afghanistan

Photo: Fardin Waezi (UNAMA) 29 November 2010 - On his first visit to Afghanistan since assuming duties as UNODC Executive Director in September, Mr. Yury Fedotov visited Jangalak Treatment Centre, in Kabul, Afghanistan, last week. The centre offers treatment and follow up care for recovering drug users.

"Drug use is a health problem, not a crime", said Mr. Fedotov. "Drug users are affected by a disease - addiction - and instead of punishment, what they need is treatment, care and social integration. They should not be stigmatized, repressed or further marginalized. Like all people, they deserve to be treated humanely. I believe in placing a strong emphasis on safeguarding health, human rights and justice", he added.

There are about one million problem drug users in Afghanistan, according to a  recent survey conducted by UNODC and the Afghan Ministry of Health (released in June). The report shows that Afghanistan is not only the world's largest producer of opium, but it also has  some of the highest numbers of opium and heroin users in the world.

Jangalak was initially set up by the Government of Afghanistan, International  Organization for Migration (IOM) in 2009 as a treatment centre specifically for problem drug users who sought refuge in old dilapidated buildings, and who were routinely dying from overdose, exposure to cold during winters, malnutrition and other drug-related illness. In August 2009, UNODC started directly supporting activities in Jangalak, and has, since May 2010 been providing a comprehensive evidence based approach to treatment which includes in-patient care, night shelter, after-care support and community sensitization activities to promote re-integration into the community of recovering drug users.

Photo: Fardin Waezi (UNAMA): Mr. Fedotov visits clients at the Jangalak drug treatment centre in AfghanistanTo date, 123 clients have been admitted to structured in-patient treatment. Sixty-three clients completed treatment successfully, while sixty clients are still in treatment and will be discharged in December.

At the centre, Mr. Fedotov interacted with patients undergoing treatment. He congratulated the recovering drug users for the momentous steps they had taken to seek help, and expressed hope that they would continue with their recovery process. Mr. Fedotov expressed his deep concern over the high number of drug users who still did not have access to comprehensive treatment services, and called on the international community to support the national efforts to improve coverage of drug treatment and HIV prevention services.

On the same day, Mr. Fedotov visited the Kabul Women's prison - Badam Bagh - to see first hand the conditions under which female prisoners are held.

UNODC has been giving support to the prison, including conducting training on the social reintegration of women prisoners, based on a handbook developed by UNODC. Currently, UNODC is supporting a HIV prevention, treatment and care programme in the prison through  a medical clinic that provides primary health care to the women prisoners, vaccination, testing for HIV and sexually transmitted diseases .

"At the women's prison, I have seen the efforts that the national government, in particular Central Prison Department, have made in improving the quality of the life of prisoners. We must build humane prison systems that respect and protect the human rights of all prisoners, including the most vulnerable, such as women and prisoners who need drug treatment. Being in prison is a punishment in itself and we have to ensure that additional resources and facilities are available for the incarcerated population, especially women and their children", he said. "The Badam Bagh is a good model for improving the quality of the life of prisoners"

Wearing a red ribbon to show solidarity with HIV positive prisoners, Mr. Fedotov also visited the HIV Clinic in the women's prison.