UN-supported HIV services target drug-addicted women and Afghans in Iran

The United Nations drug control agency has signed agreements with the Government of Iran to provide HIV prevention and care services to women and Afghan refugees there who are dependent on drugs.

HIV programmes for such vulnerable groups represent “an often neglected and humanitarian side of drug control,” said Antonio Maria Costa, Executive Director of the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), expressing thanks to the Netherlands for financial assistance and urging other funding partners to follow suit.

“These agreements are further evidence of UNODC’s pro-health approach to drugs, and to a deepening of our partnership with the Islamic Republic of Iran,” Mr. Costa added.

According to UNODC, there are more than 900,000 Afghan refugees in Iran, down from a peak of 2 million in 2002 and 2003, making it one of the largest refugee populations in the world.

The group has been identified as being high-risk and has thus far not fully benefited from Iran’s HIV prevention and support services, such as opioid substitution treatment, for injecting drug users.

The project is part of a three-year sub-regional initiative to assist Afghan drug-dependent refugees in Pakistan as well as those who have returned home.

“The hardships of Afghan refugees are compounded, not solved, by drugs. We need to reach out to this vulnerable group, and lower their vulnerability to drug abuse and the spread of HIV/AIDS through injecting drug use,” Mr. Costa said.

Partners in the project include the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, the Joint UN Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS) and the International Organization for Migration (IOM), along with the Governments of Afghanistan and Pakistan.

The second project targets Iranian women who are either drug dependent or affected by HIV or both, aiming to increase quality services tailored to the specific needs of these women in prison settings and elsewhere.

It will complement the “significant resources” that the Government of Iran already devotes to prevention and treatment of HIV and to drug-demand reduction measures, UNODC said.