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Afghanistan heroin flooding into Pakistan hinders HIV prevention

KARACHI--Between two trucks on an abandoned, garbage-strewn railway, teenagers openly shoot up drugs as children pass by on their way to school — a daily scene in Karachi, where heroin is undermining Pakistan's efforts to combat the spread of HIV.

“You can find any drug you want in Karachi,” said Shahzad Ali, his left hand swollen by repeated injections, one of tens of thousands in the city of 20 million lured to cheap Afghan heroin.

Like others, he stumbles around on the old railway line in the district of Musa Colony, where young people shoot up near mounds of smoldering garbage into which scavengers dig for anything that might be consumed or resold.

Pakistan has an estimated one million heroin users, half of whom use needles.

There are fears that the country's addiction is set to deepen, with neighboring Afghanistan's opium production hitting a record of 5,500 tons this year — even before the withdrawal of NATO forces in 2014.

A former male prostitute and heroin addict, NGO worker Mohammad Imran knows all too well the ravages of the drug.

“Because I belonged to this environment not so long ago, I can feel their feelings, their problems and everything else very clearly,” he said.

He witnessed first-hand the rise of heroin in disadvantaged neighborhoods, where a shot can be bought for as little as a few European cents — a fraction of the cost in the West.

He distributes new needles to addicts from his mobile clinic. “I can understand exactly what someone needs and I can provide them a good service at the right moment.”

Despite using for twenty years as a sex worker, Imran escaped HIV infection and AIDS.

Tarak Abbas was not so lucky. Diagnosed two years ago, his cheeks hollowed by years of drug abuse, he is now trapped, homeless on the streets of Karachi.

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 South Sudanese on their way back home 
NGO worker Mohammad Imran, left, treats a drug addict at the Musa Colony in Karachi, Pakistan on Nov. 22. Pakistan has an estimated 1 million heroin users, half of whom use needles.

(AFP)

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