Monday, August 31, 2009

Afghanistan: Drug addicts running out of hope

Drug addicts impatiently wait at the treatment centre for admission

Ehsanullah, aged 28, has been on a waiting list for nearly three months to be admitted to an NGO-run drug addicts’ rehabilitation centre in Kabul. He cannot get in because there are too many people ahead of him on the list.

About 200 drug users, mainly heroin addicts, have been hanging around for months in rooms and tents on the premises of the centre, where free treatment is provided by a couple of NGOs.

Tariq Sulaiman, director of the Nejat Centre (one of the NGOs), regretted that the rehabilitation centre only had 100 beds.

Most of those hanging around are addicts from the provinces and rural areas who have no accommodation in Kabul.

“I have been waiting here for over two months,” said an addict from the northern province of Faryab.

“We are often starving,” said another man seeking treatment.

“When we go outside people make fun of us and sarcastically call us `podary’ [heroin addict],” said Shir Agha, another addict.

Risk of closure

The centre was set up in May 2009 with funding from the International Organization of Migration (IOM) and help from the Ministry of Public Health (MoPH).

“Since May we have treated and rehabilitated about 400 addicts,” said Sulaiman of the Nejat NGO, adding that the four-month project was due to close at the end of August.

“So far no donor has assured us of funding after August but we are optimistic the Ministry of Health will help us,” he said.

MoPH officials said they were encouraging donors to provide funding but no firm commitment had been received by 26 August. It had, however, invited the country director of the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) to attend a food aid event at the centre on 25 August.

Two million drug users

According to a UNODC survey, about 920,000 Afghans used drugs such as heroin, hashish and opium in 2005.

An updated drug addiction report, due in 2009, is expected to show a significant increase in the number of drug users. A US Department of State report 2009 International Narcotics Control Strategy Report says there are an estimated two million drug users in Afghanistan.

“At least 50,000-60,000 drug addicts are in Kabul alone,” said Sulaiman, adding that further efforts were needed to treat and rehabilitate the country’s increasing number of drug users.
Published by Mike Hitchen,
Putting principles before profits