Addressing the Needs of People Who Inject Drugs in the MENA Region

14th March 2018 - MENA

Globally, People Who Inject Drugs (PWID) face some of the most severe health consequences associated with drug use. A total of 12 million people worldwide inject drugs of whom 13%  are living with HIV and 52% are living with hepatitis C and 6.7 % are living with hepatitis B.

The Middle East and North Africa is one of two regions in the world where AIDS-related deaths continue to rise. The annual number of adults and children dying due to AIDS-related illnesses increased from an estimated 3600 in 2000 to more than 11,000 in 2016. AIDS-related deaths have more than doubled between 2000 and 2010 in Egypt, Kuwait, Morocco, Sudan, Tunisia, and Yemen, which can be explained by increasing incidence in some countries and limited access to treatment in others. Moreover, out of an estimated 18,000 new infections reported in 2016, more than 95% were recorded among key at-risk populations and their sexual partners. Within the MENA region, the number of people who inject drugs is estimated between 299,000 - 1,128,000. It is estimated that 57% of all new adult infections are among people who inject drugs.

Can We Do Better? The Answer is Yes!

We have the science and we have the evidence.

HIV in the region is on the rise, driven by sharing injection equipment among PWIDs. There is substantial evidence of the effectiveness and cost-effectiveness of the WHO/UNODC/UNAIDS comprehensive package of nine interventions for people who inject drugs. Out Of these nine,  four have been identified as the most effective in reducing the spread of HIV when delivered at a required scale to PWIDs which includes:

1.      Needle and syringe programmes (NSPs);

2.      Opioid substitution therapy (OST) and other evidence-based drug dependence treatment;

3.      HIV testing and counselling (HTC);

4.      Antiretroviral therapy (ART).

UNODC in the MENA region advocates for the urgent and drastic scaling up of the harm reduction packages for PWIDs and those living in closed settings. To provide baseline data for the analyses and response to drug use in the Arab Region, UNODC conducted different studies in the region. Two feasibility studies on Opioid substitution therapy (OST) were conducted in Egypt and Palestine with the aim of developing an operational model, gathering the support of key decision-makers. As a result of regular advocacy in the region, Palestine started the OST Programme  becoming the third country in the region implementing the much-needed intervention which helps drug users leading a stable life. Also, for Egypt, an OST feasibility study has been finalized together with the Ministry of Public Health and Population with a view to a soon roll-out of OST at the pilot level.

UNODC's support is possible thanks to Drosos Foundation, European Union, Sweden, UNAIDS, and UNDP.

For further information on the project, please contact Dr. Mohammad Tariq Sonnan, Regional Advisor for HIV/AIDS Prevention and Care, tariq.sonnan[AT]un.org