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Afghanistan must act now to prevent HIV/AIDS explosion, experts say

From: “Todayonline.com” 3 December 2005 “Agence France Presse” 3 December 2005
An Afghan drug addict. Experts have warned Afghanistan must act now to prevent an explosion of HIV and AIDS fuelled by a potential hike in the number of drug users sharing needles.

Afghanistan must act now to prevent an explosion of HIV and AIDS fuelled by a potential hike in the number of drug users sharing needles, experts here have warned. Health officials estimated in October there were only up to 1,500 cases of HIV/AIDS in the country but this could be pushed upwards by the some 7,000 people estimated to inject heroin, a drugs policy think-tank said. “Many factors point to a situation which could get a lot worse,” Emmanuel Reinert, executive director of the Paris-based Senlis Council think-tank, told a meeting of government officials, aid groups and other agencies Saturday.

These factors included the increasing return of refugees from Iran and Pakistan, where many Afghans inject heroin for the first time, and a high degree of poverty. “HIV in Afghanistan is not yet a pandemic but can become in the next five years a big pandemic,” said Massimo Barra, chairman of the Development Commission of the International Federation of the Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies. “You are in the best position to prevent suffering, death and economic problems.” Barra urged the government to open anti-drugs centres, begin methadone treatment to wean users off heroin and distribute clean needles and condoms. Afghanistan must not repeat the mistakes of its neighbours, he said,citing the example of Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan which had reported only between five and 10 HIV cases 10 years ago and now had about 50,000. Barra downplayed a link between Afghanistan’s opium production — estimated to account for more than 80 percent of the world’s supply — and drug use, saying the international criminal network was efficient enough to provide drugs whereever there was a demand.

Afghanistan is trying to persuade thousands of poppy farmers, who produce the some 4,000 tonnes of illicit opium estimated to be smuggled out of the country every year, to switch to other crops. The government says the area under cultivation dropped by about 20 percent last year, but output is believed to have been much the same because of a high yield. The Senlis Council has recommended that the illicit crop is turning towards the production of legal opium-based painkillers but authorities say that would be difficult to police and confuse their messages against poppy cultivation. — AFP Afghanistan must act now to prevent an explosion of HIV and AIDS fuelled by a potential hike in the number of drug users sharing needles, experts here have warned. Health officials estimated in October there were only up to 1,500 cases of HIV/AIDS in the country but this could be pushed upwards by the some 7,000 people estimated to inject heroin, a drugs policy think-tank said. “Many factors point to a situation which could get a lot worse,” Emmanuel Reinert, executive director of the Paris-based Senlis Council think-tank, told a meeting of government officials, aid groups and other agencies Saturday.

These factors included the increasing return of refugees from Iran and Pakistan, where many Afghans inject heroin for the first time, and a high degree of poverty. “HIV in Afghanistan is not yet a pandemic but can become in the next five years a big pandemic,” said Massimo Barra, chairman of the Development Commission of the International Federation of the Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies. “You are in the best position to prevent suffering, death and economic problems.” Barra urged the government to open anti-drugs centres, begin methadone treatment to wean users off heroin and distribute clean needles and condoms. Afghanistan must not repeat the mistakes of its neighbours, he said, citing the example of Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan which had reported only between five and 10 HIV cases 10 years ago and now had about 50,000. Barra downplayed a link between Afghanistan’s opium production — estimated to account for more than 80 percent of the world’s supply — and drug use, saying the international criminal network was efficient enough to provide drugs whereever there was a demand. Afghanistan is trying to persuade thousands of poppy farmers, who produce the some 4,000 tonnes of illicit opium estimated to be smuggled out of the country every year, to switch to other crops.

The government says the area under cultivation dropped by about 20 percent last year, but output is believed to have been much the same because of a high yield. The Senlis Council has recommended that the illicit crop is turning towards the production of legal opium-based painkillers but authorities say that would be difficult to police and confuse their messages against poppy cultivation.

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