UNODC is cosponsor of the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS - UNAIDS
Harm Reduction Programme in Islamic Republic of Iran: History, Current Situation, and Challenges Ahead
Presenter: Dr. Mahshid Taj, HIV/AIDS National Programme Officer, UNODC, Iran
Dr. Mahshid Taj A Medical Doctor in psychiatry and psychotherapy, Mahshid is also an MPH candidate. Mahshid has worked on substance abuse treatment since 2002, both on medical and non medical methods, and on harm reduction since 2004. She worked for the Ministry of Health of Iran and participated in the development of the HIV/AIDS Harm Reduction and National Strategic Plan. Mahshid joined UNODC in February 2007.
The Harm Reduction programme in Iran, like in many other countries, was developed following a demand to address a rapidly spreading HIV epidemic among Injecting Drug Users (IDUs). This epidemic was first detected in two prisons, after a short while, injecting drug use in the community also became an important driver.
The starting of the Methadone Maintenance Treatment (MMT) programme in the community and subsequently in prisons in 2002 could be considered as the first tangible step towards the establishment of a comprehensive programme for HIV prevention among IDUs.
The provision of a Needle and Syringe Programme, in addition to the MMT programme, in the package of services for IDUs in 2003, made Iran a pioneer country in the region and also among Islamic countries in the provision of comprehensive services to IDUs.
The expansion of the community-based Harm Reduction programme into prisons is one of the most interesting characteristics of the Iranian programme. It had become possible only with an appropriate legal, political, and cultural background and with the financial support of the government and with the active participation of civil society organizations.
After five years, the Iranian efforts to reach IDUs and in prisons with comprehensive services are laudable; however it is clear that many obstacles to scaling up of the programmes remain to be addressed such as issues related to the quality of services, the adequacy of the monitoring and evaluation system, bureaucratic regulations/ red tape, and some legal barriers.