CHIANG MAI, THAILAND, 8 April 2003 - Children and young people in Asia are facing unprecedented health risks from HIV/AIDS and other diseases due to the rapid spread of amphetamine-type drug abuse, UNICEF warned today.
Speaking at the International Conference on the Reduction of Drug Related Harm, Robert Bennoun, UNICEF Regional Advisor on HIV/AIDS, highlighted an urgent need for more effective and coordinated policies to tackle the growing problem.
"We are witnessing a human tragedy unfolding at an alarming pace affecting our children and young people," Mr. Bennoun said.
Worldwide, young people between the ages of 15 and 24 account for the majority of new HIV/AIDS infections. Intravenous drug use accounts for much of the infection. And recent research has shown users of amphetamine-type substances are increasingly injecting their drugs of choice.
Asia is home to approximately 33 million users of amphetamine-type substances. Approximately two-thirds live primarily in Thailand, the Philippines, Japan and Taiwan. Children and young people account for the majority of new users.
Mr Bennoun said programmes aimed at preventing drug use should be complemented with those to reduce the risk to young people presently using drugs.
"Incarcerating young people in detention centres or their equivalent only serves to split families and communities with no evidence of effective results," he said.
Indeed, the victims of drug abuse by young people are many. Families witness the cycle of destruction. Communities lose valuable human resources. Schools and universities lose potential scholars.
But it is the individual young person who loses most, Mr. Bennoun said. "That short but invaluable window of opportunity - that eagerness and ability to learn and to excel - is at best interrupted and at worst destroyed by drug use and closed for good," he said.
UNICEF is developing global, regional and national strategies to deal with this growing threat to young people, through its Life Skills initiatives, integrating awareness and prevention programmes both in and out of schools.
Children and young people have a right to information, skills and services to help protect themselves from the harm associated with drugs. And UNICEF is calling for an overall increase in investment in education, community services and parental support to better protect young people from drugs.
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