EGYPT: brings out the stars to combat drug use

Mohamed-Salah-BaselThis month, the Ministry of Social Solidarity’s Fund for Drug Control & Treatment of Addiction (FDCTA), began running its latest anti-drug videos featuring young soccer star Mohamed Salah (above), as part of its “You Are Stronger than Drugs” campaign launched in May 2015. It was his second such appearance, having first taken part in another campaign in April 2016.

Young film star Mohamed Ramadan (below), also appeared in an ad for the campaign in January. The stars were selected after a study by the fund  identified the public personalities most influential among Egyptians aged 12-17.tumblr_inline_o37t2aaAnX1tuwnws_500

In April, the FDCTA commissioned a song called “Choose Your Life” by young singer Ahmed Gamal as part the campaign. On Nov. 2, a short feature film focusing on drug awareness was released featuring actor Mahmoud Abdel Moghny.

The FDCTA was created under a Presidential Decree  to confront drug abuse and addiction through programs designed to educate young people about the dangers of drug abuse. According to statistics the fund gathered in 2016, drug addicts make up 2.4% of Egypt’s population. About 10% of the population used drugs at least once in 2016, which is double the global average of 5%,  reflecting how serious drug abuse has become in the country.

In a May 13 tv interview  Minister of Social Solidarity Ghada Wali announced a new stage of the campaign. She said, “The youth are the most prone to drug abuse, and this is where film and soccer stars come in. Successful young role models such as Salah and Ramadan can help use their popularity to distance the youth from drug abuse, as they are the stars most admired by young adults and children.”

Ghada Wali

Ghada Wali

Wali explained that the fund provides free and confidential treatment for drug users and added, “Since the first ad in April 2016, in which Salah appeared, we have been seeing powerful engagement with the FDCTA page on Facebook. Its followers jumped from 5,000 to over 1.2 million. Requests for treatment through the FDCTA’s hotline skyrocketed.”

Laila Abdelgawad, a hotline supervisor for the FDCTA, told Al-Monitor, “Recruiting stars has a positive impact, as drug abusers or addicts are encouraged to visit hospitals affiliated with the FDCTA for recovery. These campaigns are mainly preventive. Statistics indicate that communication with the free addiction treatment hotline has witnessed a significant increase. It jumped to 86,000 in 2016 from 66,000 in 2015. There is no doubt that stars’ participation in anti-drug awareness campaigns played a key role in increasing interaction with the hotline before clients were referred for free treatment in hospitals.”

Abdelgawad added that providing positive role models is an important tool for encouraging addicts or drug abusers to communicate with the FDCTA, which refers them to the nearest hospital where they can receive treatment by psychologists. Though the media plays an important role, according to Abdelgawad, preventing drug use is a national duty all Egyptians must take seriously, as drug abuse and addiction pose a “great danger” to Egypt’s future.

Sherif Darwish, a psychologist and addiction therapist, told Al-Monitor, “The absence of strong role models is one of the causes of drug abuse and addiction. In behavioral psychology, social learning is a powerful tool in helping addicts recover. Further proof of [the power of social learning] is how social disputes within family members, particularly between the father and the mother, are a major contributor to drug abuse.”

Darwish added, “Direct anti-drug messages by young stars are quite positive and have a great impact, given the vast popularity such stars enjoy among the youth categories. Such young role models are capable of encouraging positive behaviour among the youth as they assert that the path of drug abuse or addiction never leads to success and fame. So we should use these stars in our messaging even more in the future to curb the high rates of drug abuse and addiction in Egypt.

This article originally appeared in Al Monitor

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