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Cambodia commits to implementing a community-based drug use treatment programme

Phnom Penh (Cambodia), 2 November 2010
- On the heels of Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon's State visit, the Cambodian Government organized an official ceremony for the signing of a letter of intent affirming its commitment to implementing a voluntary, community-based drug treatment programme.

Through the programme, Cambodia endeavours to provide to drug users treatment and other services that are based on evidence and, more crucially, available on a voluntary basis.

The letter of intent was signed by Ke Kim Yan, Deputy Prime Minister and Chairman of the National Authority for Combating Drugs, and Douglas Broderick, the United Nations Resident Coordinator in Cambodia. Also present at the signing ceremony were representatives of relevant partner agencies such as the Ministry for Social Affairs and Veterans and Youth Rehabilitation, the Minister of Health, the Australian Government's overseas aid program (AusAID), the World Health Organization (WHO), the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS), the National Authority for Combating Drugs (NACD) and UNODC.

In his opening speech, Mr. Broderick said: "It is clear that we are now at the watershed in the process of learning how to approach drug dependence treatment and care. The evidence shows us that detaining people does not produce the desired result, as relapse back to drug use is very high following release from such centres".

Mr. Broderick referred to the assistance provided by WHO, UNAIDS and UNODC to the Government in setting up the first demonstration site for the community-based drug treatment initiative in Banteay Meanchey province.

The first phase of the programme is being rolled out by UNODC in the framework of its International Network of Drug Dependence Treatment and Rehabilitation Resource Centres (Treatnet) project, with the support of the United States Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs.

Through Treatnet, UNODC promotes diversified and quality drug dependence treatment and care services, including HIV/AIDS prevention and care.

The community-based drug treatment programme undersigned by Cambodia includes the provision of methadone maintenance therapy in Phnom Penh, an initiative made possible by the technical support of WHO and financial support from the Australian Government-funded HIV/AIDS Asia Regional Programme and the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria.

Local non-governmental organizations such as Korsang, Friends International, Family Health International and the Khmer HIV/AIDS NGO Alliance have played a key role in connecting the drug-user community to this methadone maintenance clinic.

During his visit to Cambodia, Mr. Ban noted that "evidence shows that such initiatives [like the methadone maintenance therapy programme] are more effective than incarceration in addressing the social problems caused by addiction".

Considering the challenge that Cambodia is facing today, Mr. Broderick pointed out that "it is only if the Royal Government, the UN system, and development partners prioritize this issue that we will jointly be capable of containing the harmful consequences of drug use."

The fact that the Cambodian Government has committed to implementing voluntary drug treatment is a positive step towards transitioning away from compulsory treatment in confined settings.

The United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific, UNAIDS fully and UNODC Regional Centre for East Asia and the Pacific, support these efforts and will host a regional consultation on compulsory centres for drug users towards the end of 2010.