Nepal: Treatment and care for women who use drugs - a good practices guide

Women drug users constitute a significant group among the drug using community, but world over they remain a largely hidden population. Drug treatment and care programmes often club them with male drug users. Consequently, they are expected to fit into programmes designed for men. Women, however, have different problems and needs which must be addressed via initiatives specifically tailored to them.  Research shows that women drug users face more discrimination and stigma from society. They are also at risk of transferring their physical problems to the next generation through babies that are born premature, underweight, often unplanned and sometimes born addicted to drugs. 

All this makes it imperative to have gender-sensitive, comprehensive drug prevention and care responses for drug using women. One such programme is a UNODC supported project in Nepal which has introduced innovative work approaches with women who use drugs, women who inject drugs, female prisoners (many of whom are also using drugs), and women living with HIV and AIDS. As a result of working with these groups of women for over four years in Nepal and learning from experiences, UNODC has prepared a good practices guide for service providers working with female drug users.  The guide explains eight essential principles of effective programming for women drug users. These principles include:

(i) Invest in original research to increase understanding of drug use among women.

(ii) Ensure that drop-in centres are 'shame-free' zones, which women are comfortable to visit.

(iii) Encourage and support community organizations run by women drug users.

(iv) Ensure access to sterile needles and syringes to women who inject drugs. 

(v) Include psycho-social care as part of the initiative to address violence faced by these women.

(vi) Recognize the link between drug use and sex work and therefore reach out to this group of women as well.

(vii) Work closely with prison authorities to improve health and the social condition of women prisoners.

(viii) Provide shelter and empower women living with HIV.

The guide forms part of UNODC's overall research work to develop a clear understanding of the drug problem in Nepal with regard to women and put into place informed and specialized programmes that work best to meet the needs of women drug users.   This publication was preceded by a research study that mapped female drug use in the country and will soon be followed by an SOP for service providers working with women who inject drugs.

Under the project, UNODC partners with NGOs and networks to implement activities in nine districts throughout Nepal. The Project collaborates closely with the National Centre for AIDS and STD Control (NCASC) with guidance from the Ministry of Home Affairs. It is aligned to the national strategic framework for HIV/AIDS and drug policy in the country.

Click here to read Good Practices with Female Drug Users

The guide book was developed as part of the UNODC led project titled "HIV Prevention, Care and Treatment for Female Drug users, Female Prisoners and Women Living with HIV and AIDS in Nepal" which is funded by the Government of Norway.