Sat, 05 Feb 2000

Concrete action needed

It is heartening to see that such a large number of non- governmental organizations (NGOs) have come together in Jakarta in the fight against drugs (NGOs establish body in campaign to fight drug abuse, The Jakarta Post, Feb. 3, 2000).

However, readers may not be aware that there already exists a forum of NGOs working in the field of drugs throughout the country. Keluarga Relawan LSM dan Individu Pemerhati NAZA -- Family of volunteers, NGOs and individuals concerned about drugs (KerlipNAZA) -- was formed in early 1999 and has been given a mandate by NGOs from around the country to act as a network coordinator and to provide a channel of communication with government agencies.

Among the activities of KerlipNAZA are publishing a monthly newsletter, BeritaNAZA, which is distributed in printed form and by e-mail to more than 1,000 subscribers throughout the country and overseas; operating two Internet mail lists, NAZANet and NAZANet-E, to provide a forum for discussion in Indonesian and English respectively on matters connected with drugs; hosting an Indonesian-language web site on drugs; holding a National Seminar/Workshop on Drugs in Cipanas in September 1999, which was addressed by six foreign experts and funded by three international donors; acting as a liaison with the international community and foreign donors concerning matters related to drugs; and arranging briefings with ministers and other government officials concerned with the response to drugs.

Experience elsewhere indicates the number of drug addicts could increase to 50 percent or even 70 percent within one to two years, unless immediate and urgent steps are taken. Realistically, we cannot expect but a few of these addicts to stop using within this period, while more will inevitably join their ranks. Thus other actions will be needed to prevent the spread of disease (including hepatitis C, which is almost as dangerous as HIV and much more infectious) via shared needles.

Programs, including replacement therapy with methadone and programs to improve access to clean needles, must be implemented as soon as possible if we are to avoid an AIDS epidemic far worse than that caused thus far in Indonesia by sexual transmission of the virus.

While it is true that the Fatmawati Drug Addiction Hospital is the only one in the country specifically concerned with drug treatment, it is misleading to say that it is the only one in Indonesia with a special drug addict treatment unit. To our knowledge there are at least three other hospitals in Jakarta and Bogor which have such facilities, and others are adding such units.