My name is Abdur Raheem Rejaey. I work as a program director for Bridge Hope Health Organization. I used drugs for around 20 years and for 17 years I injected drugs. In 2010, methadone [programmes] were brought to Afghanistan by Médecins du Monde. I was in a very bad condition. They helped me and brought me to their centre. As soon as I started taking methadone, I stopped using [illicit] drugs. Now I take methadone. After that experience, I became a peer worker with Médecins du Monde.
In Afghanistan, we have methadone for injecting drug users who inject heroin. Unfortunately, this is not enough for people who use drugs. We have three million drug users in Afghanistan. And the coverage of methadone programmes is one thousand or two thousand people. In Kabul, we have around 200,000 people who use drugs.
This is a problem related to war. Many people leave the country and face many problems. I started using drugs in Iran. Because I was alone and faced many problems.
Because I am a drug user, I know what’s ‘wrong’ with drug users. They are always insulted and humiliated. Every time, [authorities] come [and capture] drug users, they beat them. Criminalisation does not allow us to help our community.
We had a peer worker who fell ill with appendicitis. And we brought him to a hospital to ensure that he received surgery. They brought him back, dropped him under the bridge, and let him die because he was HIV positive. They don’t want to touch people who are HIV positive
In 2010, I participated at the Vienna AIDS Conference. I met two people there. One of them was Mat Southwell, from the International Network of People who Use Drugs (INPUD), and another one was Loon Gangte, from the Delhi Network of Positive People.
When I returned to Kabul, I asked Médecins du Monde to invite them to Kabul to organise trainings for us; and build our group as an Afghan drug user group.
When they came to Afghanistan, we had a one week training and built the Afghan Drug User Group.
I became the leader. And, as a drug user activist, I’ve gained special respect from my family and community.
We have established an HIV network in 11 provinces.
In 2010, for the first time, drug users took to the streets. 400 people joined the demonstration on World AIDS Day. They asked the government to respect their rights as any other community.
When I used heroin, my family hated me. Now, my brother, my sister, everyone respects me and calls me to be their guest. This is very good for me. I didn’t marry because I faced a lot of problems; including drug use, which is the reason why I was imprisoned for 12 years in Iran.
On behalf of Afghan drug users, I call on activists around the world to help us achieve our goal.
We ask all activists around the world to support the Afghan drug user group in Afghanistan because we are a new organisation and need to have support from other countries.
Photo: Rights Reporter Foundation / International Network of People Who Use Drugs (INPUD).
This story has been edited for clarity based on the video displayed above, from the series Taking back what’s ours!, which was produced by the Rights Reporter Foundation and the International Network of People Who Use Drugs (INPUD).