Drug Prevention and Health

Drug use is increasingly recognized as a growing problem in most countries of the Middle East and North Africa. This is especially true among youth, with indicators showing a progressively younger age of onset for first-time drug use. Although cannabis is the most prevalent drug in the region, heroin and licit pharmaceuticals dominate demand for treatment across the region.

The main gap in the region remains in:

  1. Fluctuation in the availability of expertise (scope, reach and accessibility between and within countries).
  2. Absence of effective and culturally sensitive evidence-based prevention, treatment and rehabilitation interventions.
  3. Absence of programmes and services for the reduction of social and health consequences of drug use, including universal and selective drug use prevention (particularly life skills education in school settings, family skills training programmes targeting families at a higher risk, and workplace prevention programmes), treatment, rehabilitation and social reintegration.

There is limited advanced knowledge available to treatment professionals and limited treatment options in operation. Where available, treatment options mostly focus on detoxification with no follow-up or complementary services. More effort needs to be exerted in networking and bridging the available expertise and advocating for scaling up.

The lack of gender sensitive programmes and of female access to treatment facilities is a particular challenge for this region. Furthermore, there is a very restricted approach to dealing with victims of drug abuse and a lack of understanding of reasons for drug addiction, which highlights shortcomings in the design of sustainable livelihood and rehabilitation programmes.

ROMENA therefore contributes to tackling the issues of drug prevention, treatment and rehabilitation.

Curbing the spread of the HIV epidemic in the countries of the region also remains a challenging task, and one of growing urgency. In most countries in the region, the epidemic is concentrated among most-at-risk populations (MARPs). UNAIDS and WHO estimate that in 2008, about 35,000 people in the Middle East and North Africa became infected with HIV and 20,000 AIDS-related deaths occurred. The total number of people living with HIV in the region rose from 200,000 in 2001 to 310,000 in 2008. Throughout the region, HIV prevalence remains low. An exception is South Sudan, where HIV prevalence among pregnant women exceeds 1 per cent. Coverage of antiretroviral therapy remains low throughout the region, with only 14 per cent of people in need of treatment actually receiving it in 2008. Some progress has been reported in promoting HIV testing, although the number of people tested remains low. From 2007 to 2008, the number of people receiving HIV testing and counseling in Yemen increased 18 folds from 121 to 2,176. In Morocco, there was a 24-fold increase in the number of people tested between 2001 and 2007- from 1,500 to 35,458.

Current action in the region must now expand beyond small-scale pilot interventions in target regions, towards large scale, region-wide implementation. ROMENA thus significantly focuses on HIV/AIDS prevention and care.

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