Malaysian Mosque Is Also a Methadone Clinic

In 2010, Malaysia's Ar-Rahman became the world's first mosque to house a methadone program, according to the World Health Organization.

With 170,000 injecting drug users, and drug injection the leading cause for HIV transmission, Malaysia's new HIV infections reached 7,000 in 2002. After the first patient-funded methadone treatment program launched at the University of Malaya, new infections dropped to approximately 6,100. That success spurred introduction of the first national, government-funded program in 2005.

Despite expansion of those government programs, a dearth of clinics with adequate resources left many untreated, said Dr. Rusdi Abdul Rashid, chief coordinator of the University of Malaya's Center of Addiction Sciences, which runs the Ar-Rahman program.

To overcome the opposition of mosque authorities and the government departments that must sanction activities in Malaysia's mosques, doctors argued that methadone was permitted by Islam because it is medicinal and does not produce feelings of euphoria.

According to Rusdi, the Ar-Rahman program has 50 patients, ages 18 to 60, who pay 15 ringgit (US $4.90) to participate. For the first eight weeks, as part of their "spiritual enhancement," patients pray first, then take the methadone under a pharmacist's supervision. Months later, and after at least two consecutive negative drug tests, patients may take home up to three doses.

Methadone and needle-exchange programs halved Malaysia's new HIV cases to 3,080 by 2009, its lowest rate since 1993. However, new infections rose to 3,652 in 2010, as sex eclipsed injection drug use in causing HIV transmissions.

"We are currently campaigning to other religious authorities and leaders in the country to adopt this program," said Mohammad Zaman Khan, the Malaysian AIDS Council's president.