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In Afghanistan, drug rehab for children

Children in Afghanistan are often fed opium to stop their crying, and many are born to addicts. A few clinics offer drug rehab for youths, but they are scarce and socially taboo.

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Treatment as taboo

Treating drug addiction is not easy anywhere, but is especially difficult in Afghanistan because of social and cultural stigmas against females going outside the home. Many families are reluctant to let women come and stay at Sanga Amaj for the 45-day treatment period, let alone the preferred 90-day period, says Latifa Hamidi, the doctor who oversees the clinic. Even surveying women proved near impossible – they constituted only 3 percent of the UNODC’s sample size.

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Even more helpful would be treat the entire family, says Gilberto Gerra, the UNODC’s chief of drug prevention. Otherwise, “if a woman goes back to a home where her husband is using drugs, the risk of relapse is very high.”

Although cultural taboos prohibit men and women being treated together, the INL hopes to build treatment centers for men and women near one another, to allow family members to visit one another. Sanga Amaj, which opened in 2007, represents a step in that direction, by treating women and their children together.

The clinic’s 33 patients include 15 children, the youngest of whom is 3 years old. Zainab and Najiba have been here for two weeks. In addition to attending group therapy sessions and receiving medical treatment, during they day they exercise, sit in religion classes, and learn skills like sewing and embroidery. At the end of their time, they will go home to Zainab’s husband, who has already undergone treatment. If Zainab and Najiba stay clean, they will be entitled to free medicine from the clinic.

Facilities like Sanga Amaj are few. Kabul only has four, which can handle about 100 patients. Of Afghanistan’s 1 million drug users, at least 90 percent have no access to treatment, according to the UNODC.

Expanding treatment facilities would require considerable foreign aid and expertise, but does not rank high on donors’ list of priorities. These include instead ending the poppy farming and drug trade that make Afghanistan the supplier of 90 percent of the world’s opium.

“Afghanistan is known for being a supply country,” says Ms. Shah. “It is time to recognize it is a demand country as well.”

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