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US Embassy offers anti-drug grants to Kazakhstan NGOs

15 november 2013, 17:17
2
 ©RIA Novosti
©RIA Novosti
The US Embassy in Kazakhstan is going to award small grants to NGOs for projects to reduce drug abuse in Kazakhstan, Interfax-Kazakhstan reports.

This Monday the Embassy arranged a meeting with the potential relievers of the grants in Almaty.

"We are running the program for the third time in Kazakhstan. We are going to fund about 10 NGOs. We already have the initial budget of $70 thousand. A lot of organizations are contacting us and expressing interest in the program. There is still time to submit the applications," said Saule Tuleusarinova, Program Manager of the International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs (INL) Department of the US Embassy in Kazakhstan.

The applications can be submitted in English or Russian from October 28 untill November 30. The maximum amount of funding per one project is $10 thousand, the average amount ranges between $5-8 thousand.

"The applications must meet the key criteria: the proposed activities should be focused on prevention of drug abuse among teenagers. The applications will first be reviewed by representatives of the involved ministries and international organizations," she said.

American government has been running a large-scaled and multifaceted anti-drug abuse campaign in Kazakhstan since its independence. Besides a whole range of projects - like the one described above - that received a warm welcome in the Kazakh society the American efforts in Kazakhstan include quite controversial doings - such as the widely disputed methadone therapy.

This program has caused many disputes in different countries. Russia and Uzbekistan refused to implement the program altogether saying that treating drugs with drugs would do not eliminate the problem - withdrawal from methadon is even more difficult that from heroine.

273 patients are taking part in the opioid substitution therapy (OST) program in Kazakhstan. The program provides for use of methadone drug for treatment of drug addiction. OST program is currently being implemented in 10 regions of Kazakhstan.

The methadone therapy in Kazakhstan started as a pilot project in Pavlodar and Temirtau cities in 2008. Its main declared objective was to stop the spread of HIV and AIDS among drug addicts in the country. In the course of the program the drug addict are switched from heroin to methadone that is administered once a day.

When, at the early stage, Kazakhstan attempted to break loose from the vicious circle and withdraw from the opioid substitution therapy (OST) program, former U.S. Ambassador to Kazakhstan Richard Hoagland sent a letter to Kazakhstan Healthcare Minister Salidat Kairbekova. Commenting the letter years later, President of the National Medical Association Aizhan Sadykova said that the United States were pushing Kazakhstan to continue the methadone program.

The U.S. embassy denied exerting any pressure, by saying that methadone was not mentioned in the letter of the former U.S. Ambassador to Kazakhstan Richard Hoagland to Kazakhstan Healthcare Minister Salidat Kairbekova.

You can see a copy of the letter here.

Kairbekova later waived away being blackmailed by the Ambassador as well.

According to the President of the National Medical Association Aizhan Sadykova, methadone has an even graver effect on human health than heroin. Heroin withdrawal syndrome lasts for 7 days, whereas the one of methadone lasts for 40 days.

"There was a case when methadone was not delivered on time to Temirtau town (near Karaganda), and the aggression of the addicts was so strong that doctors were barely managing to keep the situation under control,” Sadykova said.

“The US sponsored methadone promotion plan involves creation of methadone distribution points in every rehab and hospital, in NGOs, AIDS centers, TBC dispensaries and jails by 2014,” she said.

“The Global Fund’s OST (opioid substitution therapy) program will finish in 2014. After that our country will have to buy this drug at its own cost. The calculations raise some concerns as well. Kazakhstan spends $5 per day per one methadone users, while the neighboring Kyrgyzstan spends only $1,” she said. The National Medical Association started talking about closing the pilot project of methadone promotion in 2011, Sadykova noted.

“Back then it was discovered that methadone is promoted in violation of the country's legislation, as according to the International Convention, it is banned from use for medical purposes. Despite that, the pilot project on implementation of methadone as the opioid substitution therapy was launched. The decree on expanding of the OST program was issued in 2010,” Sadykova said.

Kazakhstan Healthcare Ministry, meanwhile, supports that idea that the OST program helps achieve long abstinence from drugs. The patients can go back to normal lifestyle while constantly taking the supportive doses of methadone. “We believe the use of the OST possible as one of the methods of treatment of drug addiction,” the Ministry stated.

Nevertheless, many Kazakhstan doctors and public persons disagree with the ministry's position. They oppose implementation of the OST in Kazakhstan. According to them, the medicine replacing the drug is a subject of commercial lobbying by pharmaceutics companies.

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