HIV/AIDS is an area where UNICEF has made a core contribution to promoting public discussion and mobilizing political commitment around prevention. In 2006, UNICEF sponsored a Situation Assessment on HIV/AIDS that provided an updated analysis on the HIV situation in the Maldives. Though seroprevalence rates remain low and only 13 cases of AIDS have been registered nationally, the study identified many possible entry points for the epidemic. The recent rise in intravenous drug use and needle sharing was identified as the most important target area for prevention.
Complementary to the HIV/AIDS situation assessment is a 2006 Rapid Assessment on Drug Abuse, conducted by the NGO Journey, and supported by UNICEF and the National Narcotics Control Bureau (NNCB). This assessment, an ethnographic study undertaken among current and recovering addicts by former and present addicts themselves, was the first survey ever conducted in the Maldives to give insight into the behaviours and reasons for substance abuse within the drug using community. The study, conducted among approximately 200 drug users, is not nationally representative data, but yields extremely useful insight into the drug using community of the Maldives. The survey revealed that 35% of respondents began using drugs between the ages of 16 and 20. Among drug users sampled, 70% were using heroin, which is widely considered to be the drug of choice in the Maldives. In addition to an indicative rise in injecting drug use, the survey also confirmed additional high risk behaviours are demonstrated among drug users, such as early sexual activity and risky sexual behaviour.
The survey was empowering for a stigmatised group and built important research and advocacy capacities in Journey, a local NGO composed of youth recovering from substance addiction that has been working with UNICEF to provide after-care and psycho-social support services. Directly attributable to UNICEF’s input, a group of young people recovering from drug addiction began running self-help support groups in 2006 for those in recovery in Malé and Himmafushi islands. During 2006, approximately 600 young people and their family members were helped, with an estimated 150 young people attending weekly meetings.
Both the HIV/AIDS and Drug Abuse assessments have enabled UNICEF to contribute to the national dialogue on HIV/AIDS prevention, government drug prevention and rehabilitation programmes for recovering addicts, and a plan for Voluntary Counselling and Testing (VCT) services. The data from both studies have informed a National Strategic Plan on HIV/AIDS completed with UNICEF, together with a drug prevention media campaign - WAKE UP - currently amidst implementation by the National Narcotics Control Bureau (NNCB and UNICEF. The WAKE UP Campaign will be launched November 29, 2007.
UNICEF has also provided HIV/AIDS and IDU harm minimisation training to 8 heath personnel in Male' and 4 atolls, sensitising them to ensure HIV testing is voluntary, and that the medical interventions are performed using safe and hygienic methods. UNICEF has also developed information, education, and communication (IEC) material on HIV/AIDS, and worked to build capacity among young people as researchers, monitors, and advocates for future national HIV/AIDS prevention programmes.