Drug Addiction in Afghanistan Could Lead to AIDS Epidemic

Drug Addiction in Afghanistan Could Lead to AIDS Epidemic

It has long been known that Afghanistan is the world’s leading narcotics supplier—in fact, the country is responsible for 95 percent of the world’s heroin—but the country also hides an enormous drug addiction problem that is on the brink of fueling an HIV/AIDS epidemic.

CNN reports that in a squalid ruin in Kabul, heroin addicts can get hits for less than $4. The government estimates that as many as 5 percent of the 25 million people in Afghanistan could be addicts.

Although some efforts are being made to tackle the problem, funding shortfalls have prompted the United Nations to warn that drug use will escalate, potentially creating an HIV/AIDS crisis as addicts move from smoking drugs to sharing needles.

The last United Nations survey of Afghanistan’s drug problem four years ago estimated the country’s addicts to number about 200,000. According to Afghan Counter Narcotics Minister Khodaidad, the figure is now far greater. "More than 1.2 million people in Afghanistan are addicts. It’s a very huge number and every year it increases," he told CNN.

Khodaidad says the Afghan government is largely powerless to control the production of opium while Taliban extremists, who now control and draw funding from drug crops, control cultivation areas despite major international military efforts to push them back.

"We did very little due to weakness of governors, due to insurgents, due to pressure of terrorism in the area," he added. "We don’t have sufficient law enforcement agencies—the police, the border security force, and other special forces to control this area—so it will take time."

Jean-Luc Lemahieu, head of the UN’s Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) in Kabul, says time is something Afghanistan does not have. As intravenous drug use takes hold, raising the prospect of needle sharing, he says HIV/AIDS will follow quickly.

"The little data we have at the moment are very alarming," he told CNN. "They tell us that we should not wait longer and if not, this country will be saddled with another burden it just cannot afford. I think it is already happening today. We have seen, now, a few HIV/AIDS cases. Hopefully we can contain the problem, although it is unlikely given the problems with the health structures."

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