Most CSR organizations have public health as a major area of intervention. Public health in India is a massive area requiring sustained resources, improved service delivery and integrated action. There are several issues concerning public health and the role of corporates in the space. Therefore, there was a felt need to hold a series of interactions to see how CSR is contributing to the solution, how the outcomes can be improved further and what could be the opportunities for collaboration in the arena.
A series of roundtables titled 'Improving Public Health in India: The Power of Partnerships' was initiated by Essar Foundation to examine in depth the most prominent issues and to drive opportunities of collaboration. The first in the series was held in association with Jon Snow Inc, a leading international organization in the public health space. The latest roundtable, held by Essar Foundation on 24th June 2016, in association with Times of India and Economic Times CSR, is on the topic of drug abuse. Marking the International Day against Drug Abuse and Illicit Trafficking, this topic was consciously chosen to get CSR to vocalize and deliberate action on this growing issue.
This conclave is first of the many initiatives that TOI/ ET CSR will be engaged in towards fighting the problem of drug abuse in India.
Drug Abuse: Global Facts
- Even though 1 out of 3 drug users is a women, only one out of five drug users is receiving treatment.
- There is no reporting to UNODC from India on drug use
- HIV prevalence among Injecting Drug Users has gone up to almost 7.2%
Mr. Kunal Kishore, Coordinator - Drug Use and HIV Prevention in South Asia at United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, New Delhi, began with a presentation on "Drug Use in India: Challenges and Opportunities". He presented findings from the World Drug Report, 2016 that gave the audience staggering figures and facts on drug use. The data suggests there are 247 million high drug users belonging in the age group of 15-64, out of which 29 million suffer from drug use disorders.
Kunal also enlightened the audience about the various lethal drugs available in the country whose intake levels are high among the youth. Cannabis, followed by amphetamines and opioids are the most used drugs. Pseudoephedrine is a drug which does not show symptoms like the other drugs which makes it more difficult to address.
Focusing on the issue of lack of data availability, he said that no data is available to capture the number of oral drug users that move to injecting drugs. For people dying of drug overdose, there is an additional problem. For example, ironically, one may be arrested if one had to disclose, say a heroin overdose. Hence most people refrain from reporting such things and as a result deny themselves any chance of treatment. The global statistics also showed that even though 1 out of 3 drug users is a women, only one out of five drug users is receiving treatment. In India too, the situation is grim.
"Arresting a drug user in need of treatment is like putting a diabetic in jail for having the disease." said UNODC's Kishore.
Kishore was followed by Mr Kumar Sanjay Jha, Zonal Director of Narcotics Control Bureau and who is in charge of Goa and Maharashtra. He talked about government strategies to tackle drug abuse and the strategies adopted to tackle issues relating to both the supply side and the demand side.
Supply is checked by destruction of illicit drugs wherever found, controlling drugs money laundering and follow-up of wider issues with the help of international agencies. "Supply control has to be followed up with equal reduction in demand. Otherwise the exercise can be futile," he said. Demand reduction techniques include anti-drug awareness programs, wide distribution of communication materials, and audio-visual messaging in mainstream media. He also mentioned how difficult it is to get funds from the government for setting up rehabilitation centres due to an extremely bureaucratic and complicated process.
This was followed by a talk by the key speaker at the conclave — Dr Yusuf Merchant, President of Drug Abuse Information, Rehabilitation and Research Centre (DAIRRC). Dr Merchant is one of India's leading anti-drug crusaders. His take on understanding the issue was unique. He said that people ought to stop looking at 'drugs' as a problem. Drugs, he observed, were the solution, for the person taking to its use. What we need to do is to address the original problem and fix that, and drugs will automatically vanish.
This original problem of an addict can be anything ranging from low self-esteem, family issues, or inability to deal with failure. Often there is no help available at hand and the individual resorts to an escape by using drugs. He introduced us to an interesting way of looking at the language used in the world of drugs. For instance, "I am getting high" is a commonly used phrase. One might think, where is this "high"? He said, "high is any place which is not here". Hence the society and systems just need to make the 'here' of the addicts comfortable, so they won't feel the need to escape it.
"The opposite of addiction is connection. An addict feels no connection with his world around. We need to reach out to addicts and not shun them." said Dr Merchant.
Dr Merchant emphasized the importance of catching them young to create anti-drug use awareness. Often by the time a person reaches the stage of institutional rehabilitation, we lose several years in the process. By this time, the drug user is a hardened addict, and hence rehab isn't effective. If we choose 20-21 year olds as resource persons, the chances of making an impact on the younger school and college students are high as they can relate to this age group much better.
The final and most important part of the event was the interactive session coordinated by Mr Deepak Arora, CEO, Essar Foundation. Pertinent questions on how CSR can contribute, what would be the mode of partnership among key players like media, academia and government, what would be the design of taking up a CSR initiative in this space, etc., were taken up and discussed in detail with participants. There were important points made on localized data availability. It was suggested that convergence with government would be most useful.
Mr Jagdish Acharya of Asian Paints pointed out the difficulty in gathering relevant data that could become the foundation of any CSR initiative. Suggestions on collaborating with local NGOs in creating large scale awareness and creating integrated action initiatives by CSR came from the discussions. Having a CSR, media and academia platform to advocate with government on a large scale was also recommendated as a way for joint action.
Ms Priya Tandon of Kripa Foundation, an NGO working in the area of drug use, shared, "This is a very positive step ahead, to get corporates to discuss this issue. Many times we feel that the issue is extremely grave, yet not acknowledged well. I'm very optimistic about the outcomes of such an exercise."
This article first appeared on http://economictimes.indiatimes.com/ on 29th June, 2016.
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