Afghan Addicts Risk Triggering AIDS Epidemic
September 18, 2009
Afghanistan has long been the major supplier of heroin in the world, with poppy cultivation doubling since 2001. The Taliban government toppled that year once outlawed the crop, but now uses it for funding despite international efforts to curtail production. AIDS experts worry the disease will quickly overtake local injection drug users, and that addicts who smoke their drugs may switch to injecting.
Afghanistan's government estimates that as many as 5 percent of its population could be drug addicts. Funding to fight the problem has been chronically short of what is needed, prompting the UN to warn that drug use will escalate. Four years ago, the UN estimated Afghanistan had about 200,000 addicts.
"More than 1.2 million people in Afghanistan are addicts," estimates Khodaidad, the country's counter-narcotics minister. "It's a very huge number and every year it increases." "We did very little due to weakness of governors, due to insurgents, due to pressure of terrorism in the area," he noted. "We don't have sufficient law enforcement agencies -- the police, the border security force, and other special forces to control this area -- so it will take time."
"The little data we have at the moment are very alarming," said Jean-Luc Lemahieu, head of the UN Office of Drugs and Crime (UNODC) in Kabul, referring to HIV risk among injection drug users. "They tell us that we should not wait longer; and if not, this country will be saddled with another burden it just cannot afford."
At a renovated warehouse in Kabul, the UN has begun a detoxification program for drug users wanting treatment. It is the largest such facility in the country, serving 100 people and offering therapy sessions to give them encouragement. "Here we deal with the problem from a humanitarian perspective, not from an addiction perspective, to save lives," said Jehan Zeb Khan, UNODC program manager.
09.14.2009; Nic Robertson
This article was provided by CDC National Prevention Information Network. It is a part of the publication CDC HIV/Hepatitis/STD/TB Prevention News Update.