Tehran Witnesses the Birth of a Regional Network of NGOs Addressing Drug and HIV-Related Issues
26 February 2014 -Countries of West and Central Asia have created a network of drug demand and harm reduction Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs), which will greatly contribute to the development and implementation of more effective drug and HIV-related policies and practices in a region heavily hit by the problem of illicit drug use.
The establishment of the network came as the culmination of the "Second Regional Consultative Meeting towards Networking of Drug Demand and Harm Reduction NGOs", which was jointly organized by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime Office in Iran (under the Regional Programme for Afghanistan and the Neighbouring Countries), the Drug Control Head Quarters (DCHQ) of Iran, and the Iranian NGO "Rebirth Society". The meeting aimed to support the formal networking of the regional NGOs active in the field of drug demand reduction and harm reduction, which will strengthen their ability to collaborate and exchange best practices to address the problems of drug abuse and HIV prevention.
Held at the Iranian Centre for International Conferences in Tehran from 17 to 19 February 2014, the meeting brought together the representatives of 24 drug demand and harm reduction NGOs from Afghanistan, Kazakhstan, the Kyrgyz Republic, Pakistan, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan; 11 NGOs working in this field from Iran; five relevant international, regional and country networks; as well as DCHQ and UNODC.
The event was inaugurated with the presence of the Minister of Interior of the Islamic Republic of Iran and Secretary General of DCHQ, H.E. Mr. Abdolreza Rahmani Fazli, and about 200 invitees from the relevant Government agencies, NGOs, the diplomatic corps, and UN agencies. It was opened with welcoming remarks by the UN Resident Coordinator in Iran, Mr. Gary Lewis, who considered Iran to be an extremely appropriate venue for hosting the meeting as it has, for many years, made important contributions to drug control through interdicting drugs trafficked westwards and through achieving great success in delivering evidence-based drug demand reduction and harm reduction interventions. Mr. Lewis added that Iran happens to be the only country in the world to establish "drug prevention and control" as a distinct programme pillar within the United Nations Development Assistance Framework, which governs all UN development work in the country. He also emphasized the importance of networking among the NGOs working on drug demand and harm reduction because NGOs are fundamental actors in making life safer from drugs and crime.
In his address at the opening ceremony, H.E. Mr. Fazli highlighted the importance given by Iran to the work of NGOs in addressing drug problems and challenges, pointing out that Iran had also hosted the First Regional Consultative Meeting of this kind in 2011. He also stated that the Government values the support provided by UNODC, Iranian NGOs, and DCHQ to this significant event, which he hoped would lead to a "civil movement against drug demand" in the region.
The UNODC Representative in Iran, Mr. Leik Boonwaat, emphasized the significance of the Consultative Meeting and considered it as demonstrating "the magnitude of civil society involvement in the response to the global problem of drugs in this region". He praised the Iranian NGOs' efforts in drug demand reduction, stating that "the active engagement of NGOs has contributed substantially to the success of demand reduction activities in the country". He pointed out that since its establishment in 1999, UNODC Iran has been a strong supporter of advancing drug demand reduction and harm reduction efforts in Iran with the involvement of NGOs, both at the national and regional levels. Mr. Boonwaat added that the Iranian DCHQ has been encouraging the involvement of NGOs in drug demand reduction and harm reduction issues, and that these organizations are working in all areas of demand reduction and HIV control.
The UNODC Representative also pointed out that in the last 15 years, the Islamic Republic of Iran has attained groundbreaking achievements in programmes to contain the problems of HIV and drugs in the various areas of prevention, treatment and care in communities and prisons. Mr. Boonwaat also said that millions of Iranians have taken part in drug prevention programmes and hundreds of thousands of Iranians suffering from drug use have access to drug treatment and harm reduction services. Moreover, he emphasized the importance of synergy and the necessity of facilitating regional cooperation between all the actors working on drug demand and harm reduction.
Following the opening ceremony, the meeting was organized into Plenary Sessions where, over the course of three days, the participants had an extensive and detailed review of the draft Constitution of the Regional Network on the one hand, and exchanged knowledge and ideas on several aspects of NGO action and successful NGO networking models in the field of drug demand and harm reduction on the other. In addition, four parallel training sessions were held on: community-based drug prevention, harm reduction and HIV control, drug abuse treatment, and advocacy and fundraising.
The discussions concluded with the endorsement of the draft Constitution as the basis of the network (pending further amendment after the latter's establishment); the election of the Executive Committee members; the election of the Managing Director of Rebirth Society, Mr. Abbas Deylamizade, as Secretary General; and outlining the Network's plans for the next two years.
Regional Networking of DDR/HR NGOs website: http://ecoddr.ir/
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