20 March 2009

UNODC and Iran Sign Agreements to Reduce Vulnerability of Women and Afghan Refugees to Drugs and HIV/AIDS

VIENNA, 20 March (UN Information Service) - The Executive Director of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), Antonio Maria Costa, and the Deputy Secretary-General of the Islamic Republic of Iran's Drug Control Headquarters, Taha Taheri signed, on 19 March, two projects to provide HIV/AIDS prevention and care services to Afghan refugees and female drug users in Iran. These projects will be launched thanks to funding from the Government of the Netherlands.

The goal of the first project is to support national efforts to provide comprehensive HIV prevention and care services to Afghan refugees in Iran who are drug users. This is part of a sub-regional project also targeting Afghan drug-dependent refugees in Pakistan as well as those who have returned to Afghanistan. UNODC, in association with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, UNAIDS and the International Organization for Migration, will assist in delivering comprehensive HIV prevention, treatment, care and support services to Afghan refugees under this initiative. The Governments of Afghanistan and Pakistan will also be part of this three-year project.

According to the latest information, there are more than 900,000 Afghan refugees in Iran, down from a peak of 2 million in 2002/03. This is one of the largest refugee populations in the world. "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," said Mr. Costa. This group has been identified as being high-risk, yet has thus far not fully benefited from Iran's large-scale comprehensive HIV prevention, treatment, care and support services to injecting drug users, including opioid substitution treatment.

The second project targets another vulnerable group; Iranian women who are either drug dependent and/or affected by HIV. The aim of the project is to increase access to quality services tailored to the specific needs of these women, including in prison settings. This will complement the significant resources that the Government of Iran already devotes to prevention and treatment of HIV as well as drug demand reduction measures.

"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," said Mr. Costa. "UNODC is grateful for the financial assistance from the Netherlands." He urged other funding partners to follow suit and reduce the vulnerability of women and Afghan refugees in Iran to drugs and HIV. "This is an often neglected and humanitarian side of drug control," said the head of UNODC.

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For further information, please contact:

Walter Kemp
Spokesman and Speechwriter, UNODC
Telephone: (+43-1) 26060-5629
Mobile: (+43-699) 1459-5629
Email: walter.kemp@unodc.org