US officials have requested the help of the UAE in combating the rise of drug addiction across the Middle East.
Experts in narcotics and law enforcement from America have asked the Emirates to lend its expertise in the training of healthcare professionals in the region.
Under the plan, trained drug addiction counsellors from the UAE will travel to Sudan, Egypt and Jordan to pass on their skills. The scheme aims to boost the number of qualified therapists in the wider Gulf region, who can then help to counter the growing issue of substance abuse.
“One of the biggest problems in this region is that only 10 per cent of people who need treatment have access to it,” said Dr Shamil Wanigaratne, a senior adviser at the UAE’s National Rehabilitation Centre (NRC).
“This isn’t because we don’t have money, but because there aren’t enough qualified skilled staff and programmes to do that. What’s needed is a capacity building programme that trains specialists, helping them to get the qualifications they need.”
News of the US and UAE partnership came on the second day of an international conference in Abu Dhabi aimed at strengthening regional collaboration in the fight against drug abuse.
The three-day event, organised by the World Health Organisation and the NRC, plans to establish a public health framework to ensure a more co-ordinated response to the problem in the Middle East.
Under the scheme, a specialist programme — the Universal Treatment Curriculum — will be taught by UAE healthcare experts to others in the region.
The curriculum was founded in 2009 by the US Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs — part of the US Department of State — in an effort to help reduce the numerous health, social and economic issues associated with substance abuse.
On Wednesday, the NRC revealed 60 healthcare professionals in the Emirates had been trained on how to teach the curriculum over the past three years.
And officials said staff were now ready to travel abroad to assist others, starting with a team being sent to Sudan in November.
Dr Wanigaratne said: "INL wants us to have a group of trainers who can be sent to other countries and next year we plan to run courses in at least four.
“There is so much demand for it in the region. They [other countries] approached the INL and officials there needed somebody local as a co-ordinating force, so that is why the NRC took up the role.”
Brian Morales, a director in the INL’s Global Drug Demand Reduction Division, welcomed the partnership with the UAE.
He said he hoped that rolling out the UTC programme across the broader Gulf region would lead to a significant drop in addiction rates as more skilled professionals were trained to help abusers.
The stated mission of the INL is to minimise the effect of illegal drugs on the US by “providing effective foreign assistance” and fostering global co-operation.
“The whole region will have a better trained workforce and NRC will be in the forefront of that change,” he said.
“The NRC now has a memorandum of understanding with the US State Department.
“We will be working together to dispense UTC throughout the Middle East region through the NRC.
“They have a group of trainers who were already trained on it and they will dispense it in other countries.”
Dr Ahmad Naser, chief nursing officer at Erada — a drug treatment centre in Dubai — said studying the UTC programme had proved invaluable to his training.
“It taught me about group and individual therapy and how to develop a treatment plan that met with international standards,” he said.
“It also teaches you how to interact with a patient — whether they’re a PhD graduate or a schoolboy — and how to inform the family of the addiction problem in a language they can accept and understand.”