UNODC staff making a difference in Afghanistan: Mohammad Tariq, social worker
27 July 2009 - Afghanistan produces about 90 per cent of the world's opium, making it the largest poppy growing nation. This booming poppy cultivation along with conflict, displacement, economic hardship and overflowing opium production is leaving a society ravaged by drug addiction.
This already complex situation is further compounded by the flood of returning Afghan refugees from the Islamic Republic of Iran, many of whom became heroin addicts during their time as refugees.
The prevalence of drug abuse in Afghanistan, including an apparent shift towards higher-grade opiates and pharmaceuticals, is a significant public health challenge that is straining social and Governmental resources.
The increased availability of heroin has changed drug use patterns in Afghanistan and neighbouring countries from traditional smoking and oral consumption to injection, which raises the risk of HIV transmission through the use of non-sterile drug injecting equipment.
UNODC staff member Mohammad Tariq is a medical doctor with extensive experience in controlling infectious diseases. He has helped implement Afghanistan's national immunization programme and has worked for several NGOs to prevent and treat tuberculosis, malaria, HIV and AIDS-related complications.
Now, Mohammad works to help prevent the spread of HIV among injecting drug users and women prisoners. He coordinates a programme funded by the Government of Norway that reaches out to female injecting drug users in communities and in prisons, including those involved in sex work and those married to drug users. The programme targets refugees in neighbouring countries and Afghan returnees who inject drugs.
Mohammad assists vulnerable women in preventing violence and helps NGOs to offer various psychological and social services upon need. In addition, he works with NGOs to develop programmes that raise awareness of the ills of childhood drug use, encouraging women not to give opium to their children.
Mohammad spoke to us about his work:
How do you help vulnerable women deal with violence?
We provide information and education on the basic human rights of women. Our outreach team and social workers conduct regular individual, group and family counselling sessions to deliver these key messages to the community.
In your work with female drug users, what intervention are you most proud of?
Before UNODC supported this project, there was almost no intervention in the country to address the problems of female drug users and women prisoners. UNODC took the lead and is one of the few organizations working on these issues. I was selected as programme officer for this new initiative. So every step I took towards project implementation from signing of the contract with four project implementers, case finding of female injecting and non-injecting drug users, provision of services to register female injecting and non-injecting drug users and interventions for the first time in female prisons are the activities I am proud of.
Why are children given opium and how do you deal with this issue?
In some parts of the country, especially in the north, traditional opium use is common among women. These women are usually carpet weavers, an activity that makes them feel tired and gives them joint pains. In order to relieve their tiredness and pain, they use opium.
Most of the women using opium are in the reproductive age group and also have children. In order to calm their children, and so as to be able to continue working, they them give opium. They also give opium to their children to give them relief from their cough, pain and diarrhoea. As these children are victims of the poor knowledge of their mothers, our social workers provide awareness to individuals, group and families on the harm of drug use through counselling sessions.
What is the role of the Government of Afghanistan in helping women drug users, including those involved in sex work and those married to drug users?
The Government is planning to implement a gender audit of the national HIV programme and related strategies and guidelines with the aim of providing women drug users and their spouses with equal access to services.