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Turning the tide for women and girls who use drugs in Afghanistan

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Published on Mar 7, 2012

Worldwide, almost half of all people living with HIV are women and girls:
Turning the tide for women and girls who use drugs in Afghanistan

In Afghanistan, data on HIV prevalence has been scarce until very recently. With a health system to rebuilt, HIV and other sexually transmitted infection surveillance systems are basic. Until 2009, available data showed Afghanistan as a low HIV prevalence country. However, the integrated Bio Behavioural Surveillance conducted in Kabul, Herat and Mazar‐e‐sharif in 2009 showed an average sero‐prevalence of 7.1 percent among people who inject drugs. This data indicated that the country had evolved to a "concentrated" epidemic"

1 million drug users
110,000 female drug users
Only 10% access treatment services

In most countries, ensuring availability and accessibility of HIV services to women is challenging. In Afghanistan, one of the world's the most difficult and demanding development environment, making services and prevention commodities available to women and girls who use drugs demands a daily dose of courage from both the implementers and the women and girls accessing the services.

Since 2008, UNODC, through its Country Office in Afghanistan, supports HIV service delivery for the some of the most marginalised women in the country, namely women drug users and women prisoners. So far, UNODC, with the support of national stakeholders and local non-governmental organizations, has reached, over 3,000 women who use drugs and close to a thousand of their spouses who also use drugs. More than eighty women staff members of local partners, including doctors, nurses, social workers, outreach workers and peer educators have been hard at work, across six provinces in Afghanistan, to ensure service delivery reaches the most-at-risk. In the community sites, close to 4,000 women and girls have accessed voluntary counselling and testing services and thousands received HIV prevention commodities. Other services provided include diagnosis and treatment of sexually transmitted infections, diagnosis and treatment of tuberculosis, referral to antiretroviral treatment and prevention of mother-to-child HIV transmission.

For example, UNODC, works with Nejat, a local partner in Kabul. The Nejat centre, based in the old part of the Kabul city, attends, among others, to the needs of women and girls injecting and non-injecting drug users and to those who are spouses of male injecting drug users. In addition, a mobile unit reaches the them with prevention commodities, offering on daily bases gender-responsive services.

Waheeda's story

The words from a kind neighbour is all she needed to turn the tide for her family. With only a handful of women and girls who use drugs accessing drug dependence treatment, Waheeda and her four children count their blessings.

Waheeda started using drugs in her early twenties, after she got married. After pleading for her husband to stop using drugs to no avail, she too started using to ease her pain. With little access to information, she continued using during all her pregnancies and gave birth to four drug dependant children. It took her twelve long and painful years to access drug dependence treatment at the community services offered by Nejat.

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