21 April 2020 - People who use drugs can be particularly vulnerable to COVID-19 due to underlying health issues, stigma, social marginalization and higher economic and social vulnerabilities, including a lack of access to housing and health care. It is important to ensure the continuity of adequate access to health and social services for people who use drugs and with drug use disorders and to provide the continuum of care required as described in the International Standards for the Treatment of Drug Use Disorders (UNODC/WHO, 2020).
Whilst hard, crisis times, like the current pandemic, are another chance to recall universal human values and unite our forces to work together for the same goal, leaving no one behind, including people who use drugs, with drug use disorders and their families. On the 21st and 22nd of April 2020, the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) organized a transregional online training on epidemiological considerations and the roles and responsibilities of institutions involved in reducing drug demand during the Corona virus (COVID19) pandemic. The training brought 27 doctors and psychiatrists together from Egypt and the United Arab Emirates (UAE).
A result of fruitful efforts by UNODC’s Office for the Gulf Cooperation Council Region (OGCCR) and the Regional Office for the Middle East and North Africa (ROMENA) and with vital substance delivered by Wadih Maalouf, UNODC Global Programme Coordinator for the Prevention, Treatment and Rehabilitation Section, the training aimed at the exchange of successful practices between Egypt and the UAE in addressing drug demand during COVID19, reflect on the United Nations International Standards and support the national efforts undertaken by the Member States in this regard.
In his opening remarks Mr. Hatem Aly, UNODC Regional Representative for the Gulf Cooperation Council highlighted that, “Leaving no one behind, is more than a slogan, in such critical point of history, it is the cure of our work, aim of our efforts and the commonly shared principle with our long-standing partners in FDCTA Egypt and NRC UAE, people with drug dependency and use disorders and their families are already in destress, and relatively, even more vulnerable during the COVID-19 crises, thus, this training focuses on looking at the relevant international standards in conjunction with the best current practices of our both partners and their innovative services and support practices with the aim of developing a “standard guideline” on drug treatment service continuity with ultimate support that seeks to adopt the “safety first” principle while continuing to provide enhanced support to patients and their families during the pandemic, hopefully, with the fruitful cooperation of our offices and the support of our both partners, will be able to put together a joint team of experts to advance and mainstream such guidelines widely.”
It is worth noting that both the National Rehabilitation Center in the UAE and the Fund for Drug Control and Treatment of Addiction (FDCTA) at the Ministry of Social Solidarity (MoSS) in Egypt have already adopted a number of measures to prevent COVID-19 in their work system and mechanism to ensure the continuation of service delivery.
UNODC experts introduced “Suggestions about treatment, care and rehabilitation of people with drug use disorder in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic” through which Member States and drug treatment, care and rehabilitation systems and services could develop plans to ensure continuity of care for people who use drugs and people with drug use disorders. Some of the suggestions focused on;
- Addressing continued access to the services;
- Securing the safety of the staff and the patients at the services;
- Referring to the World Health Organization (WHO) guidance on disinfecting premises where the services are being provided;
- Continuing pharmacological and psycho-social therapies and
- Ensuring that under no condition should a person be denied access to health care based on the fact that they use drugs.
“Our joint efforts are necessary in the current time, COVID-19 can indirectly cost many lives and pose multiple risks if key necessary services are halted or not provided. Ensuring access to health care and services for people who use drugs, treatment of drug use disorders and reducing drug demand is key to protect the lives of many,” Ms. Cristina Albertin, UNODC Regional Representative for the Middle East and North Africa had commented.
The training also sparked discussions on the role of decision and policy makers in reducing drug demand during the epidemic, the mental health considerations during the COVID19 pandemic and how parenting skills could be strengthened to prevent negative coping behaviors.
Post delivering presentations on action undertaken at their respective institutions, representatives from Egypt and the UAE alluded to the training inspiring ways of expanding methods for drug demand reduction and for smart remote ways of effectively tweaking and communicating their work with relevant partners. The activity was seen by the attendees as a step towards more and more e-collaboration and partnership to address drug use and implementation of international standards.
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