EDPQS researcher Angelina Brotherhood has recently returned from Dushanbe, Tajikistan, where she facilitated a three-day seminar entitled “Prevention Strategy and Policy Makers” on behalf of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC).
Angelina facilitating a discussion on prevention systems
The seminar was attended by some 18 participants, representing government agencies, local non-governmental organisations, as well as international organisations. The aim of the seminar was to introduce participants to the UNODC International Standards on Drug Use Prevention (see our Related activities page), as well as the UNODC’s forthcoming guidance on evaluation. Through group-work, participants were supported in assessing the existing provision of prevention activities in Tajikistan and to identify areas for improvement based on international guidance.
Similar events have been organised by the UNODC in some 60 countries around the world, reaching over 250 policy-makers and practitioners working in the drug prevention field.
The European Drug Prevention Quality Standards (EDPQS) are also presented at these seminars, as they complement the UNODC International Standards on Drug Use Prevention well. While the UNODC International Standards describe what types of policies and interventions have been found to successfully address drug use or relevant mediators, the EDPQS describe the formal processes and structures required to implement high quality drug prevention. Put simply, the UNODC International Standards on Drug Use Prevention describe ‘what’ to do in prevention, while the EDPQS describe ‘how’ to do prevention (Burkhart 2015).
At this event, the EDPQS were presented in a half-hour session and hard copies of the EPDQS manual were also available for participants. The UNODC funded the translation of the presentation slides into Russian, meaning that for the first time, EDPQS materials are now also available in Russian.
Angelina Brotherhood reflected on the event as follows:
“It was a great experience talking to Tajik policy-makers and practitioners about drug prevention activities in their country, and I’m grateful that the UNODC invited me to hold this workshop on their behalf. Tajikistan faces unique challenges. The country is still recovering from a civil war that lasted for several years in the 1990s, whilst still being confronted with the horrors of war in its neighbouring country Afghanistan. Its proximity to Afghanistan also means proximity to the drugs trade. Seminar participants also mentioned the ‘incomplete families’ produced by emigration. Many people (especially men) leave Tajikistan in search for work, and these labour migrants’ wives were identified as a vulnerable population. I was also interested to learn that women from disadvantaged backgrounds typically cannot afford to pay to give birth in hospital, and thus home births are common among this group. Participants also spoke of the role of local traditions and superstitions which can prevent women from undergoing medical examinations. These women are consequently hard to reach and the seminar participants identified the need for greater efforts to provide medical and psychosocial services to these groups.
There are a number of different prevention activities being implemented in Tajikistan. Notably, manualised evidence-based programmes are also being adapted and piloted by the UNODC. Participants were concerned about how to sustain this work, ensuring that pilots are transformed into routine activities with high coverage of target populations. This, of course, is not a challenge faced only in this country, as we have heard similar reports from European countries throughout the EDPQS Phase I and Phase II projects.
Besides the discussion on content, participants were very interested to learn about the EDPQS. They appreciated the project cycle as a systematic way for thinking about and planning prevention. Currently, there are no national standards available in Tajikistan or any other regulatory frameworks to specify quality requirements for drug prevention. One of the outcomes of the meeting was the decision to develop national quality standards for drug prevention in Tajikistan. We discussed that such a consensus-building process, if organised carefully with involvement of all relevant stakeholders, could also help to strengthen the collaboration and coordination among prevention stakeholders in this country. Participants were interested to hear about the experiences from other countries regarding the development of quality standards, and I was glad that with EDPQS Toolkit 4, I was able to offer them a written step-by-step guide to the development of quality standards.
A model prevention system, as proposed in the UNODC International Standards on Drug Use Prevention
On the last day, there was a discussion of the national prevention system which I really enjoyed. We tried to map the Tajik prevention system against the model prevention system proposed in the UNODC International Standards on Drug Use Prevention (see above). This was a really useful process to help visualise existing organisations and structures, as well as to identify areas where things are not yet working as well as they could. One of the things to come out of this discussion was the double role of international organisations and donors. On the one hand, these organisations play a key role in planning and implementing drug prevention activities in this country. On the other hand, these activities are outside the remit of the government, and thus there may be issues with fragmentation and sustainability. It can also lead to a dependence on foreign money and expertise. Participants at the seminar all agreed that a sustainable and coherent approach to drug prevention requires strong national coordination mechanisms and delivery structures, including structures to train up a professional prevention workforce locally.
The key question of course is how to put all the good plans and intentions resulting from this meeting into practice. Over the three days, we documented all the recommendations and actions arising from the meeting. We were able to identify those individuals and organisations who are interested to take this work forward. Thankfully, the National Centre for Drugs Monitoring and Prevention volunteered to host a follow-up meeting during which the action plan could be developed further. The atmosphere upon closing the meeting was really positive, and I hope that participants will be able to continue the work and address some of the challenges which we identified together. The prevention system in Tajikistan is still in its infancy, so this is an opportune moment to set the course for a quality approach to drug prevention.”