6 September 2016 - This week, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon is in the Lao People's Democratic Republic (Lao PDR) to attend the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) Summit and the East Asian Summit. During his visit, Mr. Ban will be holding official talks with leaders from ASEAN Member States and dialogue partners, as well as East Asian Summit members. Today, during his activities in the country, the Secretary-General also visited a community-based drug treatment centre in Sisattanak District Hospital in Vientiane together with UNODC and Lao PDR officials.
In operation since January 2015, the treatment centre has served as a pilot initiative for the country, offering community-based treatment and counselling services to drug users and their families from the surrounding area. Like other parts of Lao PDR, Vientiane and nearby Sisattanak have been badly impacted over recent years by a steadily increasing supply of inexpensive methamphetamine. The UNODC country programme that supports the treatment centre has started implementing similar community-based treatment programmes in seven additional district hospitals, with plans to expand to five more. As part of the programme, medical staff have received training on drug treatment and counselling approaches, and have visited other hospitals to learn from the experience of other medical practitioners. The Sisattanak treatment centre and others supported by the UNODC programme are also provided with equipment and medicines needed for their work.
At the hospital, Mr. Ban met with patients and their families, as well as doctors, nurses and out-patient counsellors, to discuss the community-based treatment approach, and the importance of having a treatment centre in the community close to where patients live.
The Secretary-General commended the Government of Lao PDR for embracing the programme, saying: "Having a treatment centre in the community close to young people and families impacted by methamphetamine is a positive step. While it is very concerning that the drug problem has continued to deteriorate here in Lao and in the region generally, it is good to see that UNODC assistance with the community-based treatment model is making a difference in people's lives."
Located in the centre of the Mekong region, the drug problem in Lao PDR continues to grow, in-part, due to high levels of production and trafficking in the region in addition to the country being used by traffickers to ship drugs to neighbouring countries. To help address the challenge, UNODC aims to expand community-based treatment throughout the region.
While guiding Mr. Ban through the Sisattanak treatment centre, UNODC's Regional Representative for Southeast Asia and the Pacific, Jeremy Douglas, explained the importance of this initiative, mentioning: "This pilot is impressive and we are encouraging international partners to consider intensifying support for community treatment and counselling, as well as related justice and drug policy reforms. UNODC will continue to support the Government of Lao PDR to expand the network of community based treatment centres in the country, and promote the model across the Mekong and ASEAN region."
As he left the clinic, Mr. Ban spoke to staff and praised the excellent work being done to promote a comprehensive package of drug use prevention, treatment and care interventions that is based on evidence. "I am impressed by the dedication of the staff, but I am even more impressed by the young people and families who had the courage to discuss how drug use has impacted their lives. They need support, and this is the kind of programme the United Nations can, and should, expand."
He also mentioned that the United Nations would also work with the Government of Lao PDR to provide alternatives to incarceration for drug users who are victims of the drug trade and who are often stigmatized. He emphasized that efforts need to be intensified quickly in both the country and the region to help develop drug use prevention, care and treatment programmes within communities and have family support, with a focus on vulnerable young people.
Finally, Mr. Ban expressed his appreciation to colleagues from the different United Nations offices in Lao PDR - in particular staff he met from UNODC - for collaborating closely with the Government and its partners to address the harmful consequences of drug use in the country.
UNODC has implemented several initiatives in Lao PDR. One of them, a joint UNODC-WHO project, aims at promoting evidence-based and ethical drug dependence treatments and services in the community, ensuring these are at low-cost to the provider and accessible to the patient. The basic package of services includes elements of psycho social treatment, as well as access to broader health care and social assistance in line with the programme's goal of promoting and supporting worldwide, evidence-based and ethical treatment policies, strategies and interventions to reduce the health and social burden caused by drug use and dependence, with a particular focus on low- and middle-income countries.
Details of activities completed in Laos PDR include:
• In addition to supporting Community Based Treatment (CBTx), intense training efforts have been conducted with a total of 76 practitioners trained on the latest drug treatment methods. In particular a training on brief interventions and treatment for Amphetamine-type stimulant (ATS) users took place in June 2015 at the Sisattanak District hospital, Vientiane Capital;
• The CBTx center at the Sisattanak district hospital was able to provide ongoing services to an increasing number of patients;
• WHO is in the process of drafting guidelines of CBTx;
• The piloting of the WHO/UNODC Substance Abuse Treatment Facility Survey is of great importance in Lao PDR, as it allows for the establishment of a national directory of treatment services, in order to develop a more comprehensive picture of the current national treatment capacity;
• A total of five district hospitals are now providing CBTx services to drug patients in Lao PDR and the additional CBTx on-the-job-trainings. An important step towards promoting CBTx services within the country has been made;
• Thanks to intensified efforts in regard to CBTx services, a general increase in the number of drug users to receive drug counselling and treatment services at the district hospital can be recorded. The project was designed to in such a way, that treatment of drug patients and general patients is equal, in order to avoid discrimination and stigma. Drug patients were encouraged to visit the hospital more than once.