Maldives launches its first national campaign on drug prevention
MALE, Maldives, 5 December 2007 – A nationwide campaign on drug prevention invites each and every Maldivian to be part of the solution to the country’s growing drug problems.
The campaign, entitled “Wake Up”, is launched today by the National Narcotics Bureau, the non-governmental organization Journey and UNICEF, with an aim at preventing drug abuse and promoting recovery among addicts throughout the Maldives.
In June 2007, a group of Maldivian youth gathered to discuss the drug issue and design a drug awareness campaign. Working with UNICEF and partners, the young people conceived the ideas behind the Wake Up Campaign - even the name itself. The campaign is an invitation to every Maldivian – to get informed, to understand, to listen, and to reach out – to be part of the solution to a problem that affects everyone.
“Based on what we have found from the past one year and a half, I can very clearly say that more than 10 per cent of the youth population is using drugs,” Said Rado, Founder of Journey, an NGO run entirely by recovering addicts to provide aftercare, support and peer counseling services for other recovering addicts.
“Throughout the world, the average recovery rate is about 5 per cent. But here in the Maldives, with all the tremendous efforts by the Government and the civil societies, we haven’t come anywhere close to that,” continued Rado. “We are living in a small society like this, we can go out and reach anywhere in this capital within 5 minutes, but still we are not able to reach those active addicts who need help.”
Based on a recent ethnographic study conducted by Journey - “Voices from the Shadow” -the number of drug users is increasing while the average age of use is decreasing. First use is typically 12-16 years old but evidence has shown that children as young as 9 and even 7 years old are starting to experiment with dangerous drugs in the Maldives.
Heroin, one of the most highly addictive and destructive drugs in the world is the most frequently abused drug in the Maldives. On the islands where heroin is not as easily available, drug users turn to other substances: “People will try anything if you tell them it will make them high,” said one anonymous drug user.
In addition to reports that drug abuse is on the rise, there are also increasing reports of injection drug use. Although the Maldives has kept its HIV infection to a low rate, the increase in injection drug use makes the Maldives vulnerable to the spread of HIV and Hepatitis C.
The Campaign emphasizes the importance of community support and acceptance for addicts to help break the stigma and promote recovery. The public - particularly parents and teachers - are encouraged to speak openly about the drug issue and the consequences of drug abuse. Wake Up messages will be distributed today through billboards, posters, brochures, TV and radio – with the help of partners such as Dhiraagu and TV Maldives - around Male’ and the atolls. In addition, a special campaign website www.wakeup.mv has been created to help children, youth and parents learn more about the drug issue and where to go for help.
“It is time we ALL woke up - the future of our beautiful nation depends on it,” said Minister of Gender and Family Aishath Mohamed Didi. “Become educated and aware of the harmful effects of drugs and the benefits of a drug free lifestyle. It is this knowledge and our united commitment that will help our young people to reject drugs. Remember, where there is no demand, there is no supply.”
Together with the Wake Up campaign, a one-stop community centre for drug prevention, recovery and aftercare is also launched today.
The NNCB Community Service Centre in Male’ will provide basic counseling, peer support and rehabilitation services for addicts as part of the community rehabilitation programmes. Specialists, counselors, social workers and volunteers of the centre will organize aftercare programmes such as individual counseling, family/group therapy, as well as opportunities for vocational training to help addicts, especially the young people, to recover from drug dependency.
On 7-8 December, the Wake Up Challenge, a series of sports activities including marathon, swimming and baibalaa - traditional Maldivian-style wrestling - will be organized in Male’ at the Artificial Beach to promote a positive lifestyle among children and youth.