|Professional cricketers listen to one of the young clients at a drop-in centre for drug users in Dhaka.|
By Arifa S. Sharmin
DHAKA, Bangladesh, 15 January 2009 - Bilash regularly visits the UNICEF-supported Naya Bazaar drop-in centre in Dhaka city to receive help for his drug addiction. But even in his wildest dreams, the 11-year-old never expected to meet the captain of the Bangladesh national cricket team there.
Bilash instantly recognized Mohammad Ashraful, who was making a surprise visit to the centre along with the International Cricket Council (ICC) General Manager, David Richardson, and three other famous cricketers from Zimbabwe and Bangladesh.
The cricketers visited the centre on 11 January to show their support for the young people there, who are battling drug addiction and, in some cases, HIV/AIDS. It was part of a global effort by the cricketers to promote the power of providing information about HIV treatment and prevention to young people at risk.
Critical support from UNICEF
Under its HIV and AIDS prevention project in Bangladesh, UNICEF has been supporting 146 drop-in centres throughout the country that provide help to over 100,000 young people and adults.
About 751 drug users regularly attend the Naya Bazaar drop-in centre, which is run by the non-governmental organization CARE Bangladesh with financial and technical support from UNICEF. More than 50 of them are living with HIV. Most are victims of discrimination and receive little help elsewhere.
The visit was eye-opening for the cricketers, who did not expect that children as young as Bilash could have such distressing personal histories.
Child drug users
Bilash told Mr. Ashraful how his friend had introduced him to substance abuse and how he was exploited by his employer, who also influenced him to take drugs.
“After coming to the drop-in centre, I have realized that intravenous drugs are harmful and can cause HIV/AIDS by sharing needles with others. But I can’t live without drugs,” he said.
Sadly, there are more than 15 child drug users, like Bilash, who regularly visit the drop-in centre to receive medical attention, information, counselling and detoxification. Most of them live in poverty and are forced to work – often as garbage pickers, scrap metal collectors, rickshaw pullers or newspaper sellers – to support themselves and their families.
’Life is much like cricket’
The cricketers listened attentively to the young people’s stories, and cautioned them against sharing syringes, which is one of the major causes of HIV transmission in Bangladesh. Among drug users in Dhaka, the HIV prevalence rate is estimated at up to 10 per cent, compared to the less than 1 per cent prevalence in the general population.
Mr. Ashraful, who is a UNICEF Bangladesh Goodwill Ambassador, had encouraging words for the young addicts.
“Life is much like cricket,” he said. “Every effort we make takes us nearer to our goal. If you try hard enough and set your goals right, you can manage to get out of drugs and out of this vicious circle.”
The visit was organized by UNICEF, in partnership with the ICC and the Bangladesh Cricket Board, for the ‘Unite for Children, Unite Against AIDS’ campaign.
“Cricket is a popular game in the sub-continent,” said Mr. Richardson, speaking for the ICC. “By involving cricketers, the ICC can help to reduce the stigma associated with AIDS and support UNICEF and UNAIDS to sustain this awareness campaign.”
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