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Maldives launches first-ever national drug abuse prevention campaign

© UNICEF video
The Maldives ‘Wake Up’ campaign aims to prevent drug abuse while promoting recovery among addicts.

By Kun Li

MALE, Maldives, 3 January 2007 – A nationwide campaign on drug-abuse prevention invites every Maldivian to be part of the solution to the country’s growing drug problem.

The ‘Wake Up’ campaign – launched by the National Narcotics Bureau, the non-governmental organization Journey and UNICEF – aims to prevent drug abuse and promote recovery among addicts.

“In the case of the Maldives, the youth represent a very large section of our society,” Maldives President Maumoon Abdul Gayyoom said, noting that nearly 50 per cent of the country’s population is under 18 years of age. “We cannot, therefore, afford to lose our youth to substance addiction,” he added.

Reaching addicts with needed services

In the Maldives’ densely populated capital city, Male, an alarming number of young people are becoming involved in drug abuse.

“Based on what we have found from the past year and a half, I can very clearly say that more than 10 per cent of the youth population is using drugs,” said Mohamed Rashid (known as Rado), the founder of Journey, which is run entirely by recovering addicts to provide aftercare, support and counselling services for their peers.

Despite efforts by the government and civil society organizations, recovery rates are still low. “We are living in a small society like this, we can go out and reach anywhere in this capital within five minutes, but still we are not able to reach those active addicts who need help,” said Rado.

Drug abuse starts young

Based on a recent ethnographic study conducted by Journey, the number of Maldivian drug users is increasing while their average age is decreasing. First use typically occurs at 12 to 16 years of age, but evidence has shown that even younger children are starting to experiment with dangerous drugs here.

© UNICEF Maldives/2007
A poster from the ‘Wake Up’ campaign informs the public: “Addicts don't need labels. They need your support.”

Heroin, one of the most highly addictive and destructive drugs, is the one most frequently abused 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 user. Injection drug use is reportedly on the rise, raising concerns about the possible spread of HIV and hepatitis C. 

“Drug addiction can happen to anyone, regardless of their age, gender, economic or social status,” said UNICEF Representative in the Maldives Ken Maskall. “Many people don’t realize that addiction is really a chronic, progressive condition that requires professional treatment, help and support.

The newly launched anti-drug campaign, Mr. Maskall explained, “is an invitation to all Maldivians: Join us in the cause of drug prevention and promoting recovery amongst addicts – from the biggest city to the smallest island.”

Campaign conceived by young people

The ideas behind the ‘Wake Up’ campaign, including its name and logo, were conceived by a group of young people.

Working with UNICEF and partners, 20 youths came together in June to discuss the drug issue and design an awareness campaign. The group wanted the ‘Wake Up’ campaign to involve every Maldivian.

With the support of private partners, ‘Wake Up’ messages will be distributed through billboards, posters, brochures, TV and radio around Male and the country’s many atolls. The campaign emphasizes the importance of community support and acceptance for addicts. The public – particularly parents and teachers – are encouraged to speak openly about the drug issue and the consequences of drug abuse.

A special campaign website, www.wakeup.mv, has also been created to help children, youth and parents learn more about preventing drug abuse.




December 2007:
UNICEF correspondent Kun Li reports on the launch of a new anti-drug campaign in the Maldives.
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