Jamra primary scholl for children affected by HIV/AIDS, drugs or poverty, Senegal (c) Nell Freeman/Alliance Participants in the Photovioce project, Ecuador © Marcela Nievas for the Alliance
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The power of a peer: methadone maintenance therapy in China


A peer-worker at the Red Cross Hospital Methadone Maintenance Therapy clinic

Every day at noon Xiao Jun goes from office in the bustling city of Nanning. He delivers lunches and takeaways, contentedly collecting money and quickly rushing off to his next client. It’s hard to believe that just one year ago Xiao Jun was dependent on heroin.

After many failed attempts to get Xiao Jun to stop using heroin Xiao Jun’s family were distraught. They were worried for his life and future prospects.  He was spending his and his family’s money on buying heroin each day, and his health was suffering.

The family heard about treatment for heroin dependence, and brought Xiao Ju to the methadone clinic at the Red Cross Hospital in Nanning, one of the five Methadone Maintenance Therapy (MMT) clinics directly supported by the Alliance in the Nanning area. They hoped that Xiao Jun would finally get the help he needed.

The turning point came when Xiao Jun met Xiao Fang, a peer educator at the clinic. Xiao Fang had been on Methadone Maintenance Therapy for five years and had had much first-hand advice to give Xiao Jun. Xiao Jun found it hard to believe that this healthy, confident woman had ever been in the same situation as him.

A difficult start

Xiao Fang called Xiao Jun every day to ask how he was getting on and to offer him any help that he needed. A critical point in their relationship came when Xiao Jun started using heroin again.  At the clinic his urine tested positive for heroin. He regretted his choice and expected Xiao Fang to keep his lapse secret from his family.

Xiao Fang told him that she couldn’t do this and that if the family asked, she would have to tell them. When Xiao Jun’s aunt asked about the test results Xiao Fang told her the truth, but also shared her own story, that she too had used drugs after starting methadone treatment. However, with her mother’s continuing support she was able to quit drugs completely.

Xiao Jun’s aunt was convinced, and instead of criticising him she encouraged him to continue with the therapy.

A better future

Xiao Jun’s family were delighted to see him gaining weight and getting healthier. Xiao Jun is rebuilding the relationships that suffered when his heroin dependency got out of control, and he continues to attend the methadone clinic each day.

Now Xiao Jun’s life is better. He is managing the family takeaway business. He has married his girlfriend and they are now expecting a baby.

Community Action on Harm Reduction

Xiao Jun’s story shows how effective Methadone Maintenance Therapy coupled with peer support can be. Alliance China is one of the linking organisations who will implement the Alliance’s new Community Action on Harm Reduction programme (CAHR). Their main focus will be on providing HIV and harm reduction services to people who use drugs and their families in five countries.

    Xiao Jun has married his girlfriend and they are expecting a baby