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Rehab programme to be tested in Cambodia

Local authorities and civil society members engage in discussion at the workshop on community based treatment for people who use drugs yesterday in Phnom Penh.
Local authorities and civil society members engage in discussion at the workshop on community based treatment for people who use drugs yesterday in Phnom Penh. Heng Chivoan

Rehab programme to be tested in Cambodia

A community-based treatment programme for drug users – which has reduced costs, rates of relapse and drug-user related crimes in trials in China – is set to be piloted in two Phnom Penh communes from December, stakeholders said yesterday.

Community-based treatment has long been advocated for by the National Authority for Combating Drugs (NACD), as opposed to conventional approaches that see users sent to mandatory rehabilitation centres, known for their prison-like conditions and high relapse rates.

Speaking at the launch at Phnom Penh’s Himawari Hotel, NACD Secretary-General Meas Vyrith said the challenge in implementing community-based treatment has been in coordinating efforts between local police, health authorities and civil society organisations to help, rather than punish, drug users.

“We faced some small issues relating to the people involved not understanding each other,” he said.

The new approach, he said, enables local-level institutions to “push the drug users to get treatment”, instead of facing arrest and criminal proceedings.

The NACD will coordinate with the Ministry of Health, law enforcement and NGOs, such as HIV-prevention NGO Khana and harm-reduction NGO Korsang, to implement the plan.

“We need to work together,” said Dr Chhit Sophal, the director of the ministry’s Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse.

The plan will also include a smartphone application that allows care-givers and authorities to add information to a database to track a patient’s progress. This data can also be later used to devise new policies, Sophal said.

For Sophal, an important factor in strengthening community-based treatment was to develop counselling services nationwide. According to ministry data, only 88 of 110 referral hospitals and 208 of 1,202 health centers in the Kingdom provide counselling services.

The pilot, in the capital’s Chbar Ampov and Teuk Thla communes, is modeled after a programme tested in Yuxi city, Yunnan Province, China by the NGO Aids Care China (ACC).

“We are aiming to provide constructive evidence . . . to develop new policies for combating drug use,” said ACC Director Thomas Cai, who was brought on as a consultant for Khana.

While funding details are not yet finalised, Cai said he hopes the programme will run for at least two to three years, with the first-year cost for each site at roughly $100,000.

This article has been updated with the number of health centers in the Kingdom that provide counselling services.

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