In Uruzgan, a rural province in southern Afghanistan, a private home is the only drug rehabilitation clinic in the entire, impoverished southern region. Considering that a recent US study suggests that up to 11% of the Afghan population use drugs and that this year’s opium crop is supposed to break all previous records, it seems fair to wonder if western NGO’s and governments are doing their fair share to help.
The only drug rehab clinic in Uruzgan is run by Hamidullah Bawari, who opened his home to addicts three years ago. Despite having only four days of rudimentary training from the Afghan ministry of counter narcotics, Bawari felt compelled to open his clinic after Save The Children recently closed the only rehab clinic in the region after treating nearly 500 patients free of charge. Jennifer El-Sibai, spokesperson for Save the Children, says that the closure was an indirect result of aid cuts in Australia which funded the clinic.
Treatment at Bawari’s clinic costs $100 a month and some might find the treatment model to be rather basic, but patients agree that it is effective and necessary. Upon arrival, they are shaved and placed in leg shackles to prevent escape. “If we didn’t have chains on, we would escape like this,” says patient Agha Shahi as he snaps his fingers. Treatment mainly consists of pain killers purchased from a local pharmacy, and a cold turkey philosophy which even bans cigarettes. For anyone familiar with the drug detox experience it is easy to see why the chains are necessary, as giving up the tobacco and the opium at once must surely require some form of monumental strength or at least an inability to do anything about obtaining that fix in the first place.
While many westerners might find the idea of a drug rehab shackling its’ clients to be a bridge too far, there can be no doubting that there is simply no other option for some addicts in the poorest regions of the world. It would also be fortuitous if westerners were able to apply pressure on their regional governments and NGO’s to contribute more towards organisations like Save The Children who were forced to depart for lack of funding.