Advocacy for methadone maintenance therapy in Kazakhstan

Why often opioid injectors and their relatives suffering from long drug use by one of the family member don't opt for pharmacological treatment of drug dependence?  Why there is still resistance among some addiction treatment physicians regarding this particular method of treatment of opioid dependence?  Since 2008 methadone maintenance therapy (MMT) as an effective method for treatment of opioid dependence, reduction of criminal behavior as well as prevention of HIV among opioid injectors, is available in Kazakhstan for a limited number of people within the framework of a pilot project funded by the Global Fund to fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria (GFATM). Despite the overwhelming evidence on effectiveness of methadone maintenance therapy, a number of policy makers and practitioners still question its necessity in Kazakhstan. On many occasions, incorrect and misleading information has been disseminated via media and by individual specialists. In December 2014, the Ministry of Health and Social Development approved a Roadmap on Sustainability of MMT in Kazakhstan for 2015-2017. In February 2016, the Minister of Health and Social Development asked the senior drug addiction treatment specialists to intensify advocacy for MMT in order to increase awareness about the benefits of MMT for individual patients and the general public.  

In this regard, on 13-15 April in Astana, UNODC in cooperation with the Ministry of Health and Social Development and GFATM organized a workshop for addiction treatment physicians in order to develop advocacy plan and improve the skills for communication with media and other target groups. 30 addiction treatment physicians and psychologists   from the all regions of Kazakhstan took part in the training course "Advocacy for Methadone Maintenance Therapy". Mr. Sagat Altinbekov, Director of the Republican Centre for Applied Research on Psychiatry, Psychotherapy and Addiction Treatment, in his opening remarks mentioned that participant's advocacy plan will lay the ground for further actions for HIV prevention in Kazakhstan.

It was the first interactive training course on this issue developed and offered by the UNODC Regional Office for Central Asia. Participants were trained on how to build relations and work with the mass media, how to identify target audiences and developed key messages for each of them, which communication channels use to deliver key messages, and many other issues related to advocacy. Finally, participants developed and presented the Advocacy plan for methadone maintenance therapy for 2016 for their particular cities and regions. Implementation of the Advocacy plan will be monitored by the Kazakh Ministry of Health and Social Development. Ms. Aigul Tastanova, Deputy Director of the Department for Organization of Medical Care reminded about the strategic goals on ensuring universal access to evidence based drug dependence treatment and HIV prevention, and highlighted the individual role of each participant in implementation of the newly developed Advocacy Plan.