A twelve member Afghan delegate comprising of medical doctors working for Counter Narcotic Trust Fund (CNTF) project, Department for Demand Reduction, Directorate of Preventive Care and Essential Health, General Directorate of Service Prevention, Ministry of Public Health and Islamic Republic of Afghanistan, visited UNODC Regional Office for South Asia (ROSA), New Delhi on 27 March 2009. This visit was facilitated by SHARAN, which has been extensively working in the area of drugs. The delegates visit was to understand the responses on prevention, treatment and rehabilitation of drug users in south Asia and sharing of best practices in treatment of drug addiction and substance use. The delegates were also interested in exploring opportunities where UNODC ROSA can build capacities of doctors to develop drug treatment shelters.
Ms. Ashita Mittal, deputy Representative and Officer-in-Charge UNODC ROSA (centre) and to her left Pinky Pradhan, Communications and Advocacy Officer, UNODC ROSA are seen with some of the delegates from Afghanistan.
Poppy cultivation in Afghanistan has been on a steady rise over the past few years. Afghanistan has monopolized the opium market accounting for 93 percent of global production.With its many laboratories, Afghanistan is also turning into a major centre for opium conversion into heroin.
1The statistics of illicit drug users in Afghanistan is estimated at 920,000. The drug users represent 4% of the total population. Afghanistan's opiate consumption is high at 2% of the adult population. The report "
Illicit Drug Trends s in Afghanistan" by the UNODC Country Office for Afghanistan shares that an estimated 14% of heroin users are believed to be injecting drug users. Sharing of needles and other injection paraphernalia is widespread, increasing risks for the spread of HIV and hepatitis.
As doctors, developing the skill set and capacity to treat people dependent on drugs, is paramount as lack of control of pharmaceutical drugs combined with no awareness of the risks of drug use can only add to the growing numbers of drug users in Afghanistan. Ms. Ashita Mittal, Deputy Representative and Officer-in-Charge UNODC ROSA, shared that responding to this threat to peace and security requires concerted action based on the principle of shared responsibility. Drug producing, transit and consumer countries are all in it together. It is important in defining common priorities and strategies to counter the drug problem in Afghanistan. The doctors' also met senior officials from UNODC ROSA like Dr. Rajiv Walia, Dr. Jayadev Sarangi and Ms. Bidisha Pillai who shared with them information on their programmes. Dr. Walia spoke about law and enforcement, Dr. Sarangi on incarcerated drug users and Ms. Pillai on drug prevention and treatment.
When asked what were the main challenges the visiting doctors faced in treating the problem of drug dependence, they shared that among the top drawbacks were weak capacities of doctors in drug diagnosis, lack of effective treatment, limited access to medicines, poor health facilities and dwindling number of doctors. One of the doctors said that Afghanistan has numerous risk factors that include the easy availability of opiates, injecting drug use , unsafe injecting practices, poor blood safety, weak state capacity which hinders public health service delivery and low HIV/AIDS awareness.
Ms. Mittal said that UNODC ROSA can help address these issues by identifying expert resource persons and groups that can train existing and potential doctors on the above issues. It can share best practices on treating drug and substance abuse and assist in building the capacity of the health practitioners in diagnose addiction and related areas. Ms. Mittal also emphasized on the need for greater regional collaboration and experience sharing to address the problem of drugs. They were advised to also initiate dialogue with the UNODC Afghanistan Country Office.
Such visits by delegates to UNODC ROSA is a crucial step in further strengthening dialogues of cooperation and support. The afghan doctors also said that they would like to adapt and develop drug prevention messages and incorporate them in the school curricula. They also plan to develop a drug prevention strategy for engaging young people. Eeach delegate was presented with an exhaustive information pack that contained brochures and published reports on the various programmes of UNODC ROSA.
Click here to view picture of all 12 participants.