HIV prevention, treatment and care among female drug users and women in prisons

22-29 November 2009- A regional project on HIV/AIDS prevention, treatment, care and support for female injecting drug users and women in prison settings has been implemented since 2008 in three countries: Afghanistan, Nepal and Pakistan.The project is funded by Norway. In Afghanistan, the project is being implemented in the provinces of Kabul, Balkh and Herat, including in two prisons for women in Kabul and Herat through four governmental and non-governmental organizations.

In order to build the capacity of the staff of these organizations and the National AIDS Control Programme, a training session on comprehensive harm reduction was carried out from 22 to 26 November 2009 in Tehran by the Iranian National Centre for Addiction Studies (INCAS) in close coordination with the UNODC Country Office in the Islamic Republic of Iran.

INCAS is a research and training centre for interventions in substance use, treatment and harm reduction in the Islamic Republic of Iran. It serves as a "knowledge hub" for the Middle East and North Africa Harm Reduction Association (MENHARA) and also acts as a resource centre for UNODC's global Treatnet project.

Of the 17 Afghan participants, 12 were women service providers. This was a significant achievement in view of the fact that Afghan culture poses restrictions on working women's participation in public affairs. Several of the participants had travelled abroad for the first time without being accompanied by a family member.

The training session was officially opened by Dr. Mohsenifar, Head of INCAS. She welcomed participants and said that INCAS had arranged eight rounds of harm reduction training sessions, including the current one, three for Afghan and five for Iranian services providers.

The training session was delivered in the local language and used participatory learning techniques. Site visits were made to opioid substitution therapy centres, the Khan-E-Khorshed female drop-in-centre and Qazal Hesar prison.

The entire team met with Dr. Saed Sefatian, Director General of Drug Treatment, Rehabilitation and Vocational Training (Drug Control Headquarters), Dr. Zubair Zahidi (Head of the Drug Treatment Office), Dr. Qumbari (Head of the Harm Reduction Office). They welcomed participants and discussed strengthening the support of the Government of the Islamic Republic of Iran to increase the capacity of Afghans to address HIV and drug use.

Some of the topics covered during the training:

  • Addiction (definitions, epidemiology)

  • Gender differences in addiction

  • Visiting clients of a harm reduction centre

  • Harm reduction centres and outreach services

  • Detoxification and relapse prevention

  • Opioid substitution therapy

  • Harm reduction: definitions, effectiveness, cost effectiveness

  • Harm reduction acts

  • Harm reduction in prison settings

  • Challenges in establishing harm reduction programmes

  • Voluntary counselling and testing: counselling basics in HIV/AIDS