United For Prevention Coalition Sensitises Parliament on Need to Integrate Drug and Substance Abuse In the National HIV Prevention Response

By Michael Gwarisa

In a bid to capacitate members of Parliament with information and share the latest data and trends regarding the scourge of drug and substance abuse in Zimbabwe, SAFAIDS recently held a one-day capacity-building workshop with members from the Parliamentary Portfolio Committee on Health.

While traditional methods of administering drugs and substances such as smoking and ingestion remain prevalent, the latest trends such as drug injection and Bluetooth or Flashblood whereby a syringe full of intoxicated blood is passed from someone who has just injected heroin to someone else who injects it in lieu of heroin, have increased the risk of drug and substance abuse linked HIV, syphilis and other infections.

To address the rising drug and substance abuse crises, Civil Society Organisations (CSOs) have formed the United Prevention (U4P) program, a coalition of CSOs that work hand in glove with ministries, policymakers other smaller NGOs to look at domesticating and implementing an HIV prevention roadmap. The U4P project is being implemented in seven African countries namely Kenya, Malawi, Mozambique, Nigeria, Tanzania, Uganda and Zimbabwe and is funded by Frontline AIDS.

Speaking at a Lobbying and capacity-building workshop with the Parliamentary Portfolio Committee on Health and Child Care on the Minimum Health Service Bundle for People who Inject and Use Drugs, SAFAIDS Country Representative, Musa Hove said the rising scourge in illicit substance abuse could derail efforts to attain the 95-95-95 targets.

The main reason why SAFAIDS has been working in this particular area of drug and substance use is largely driven by what we call the U4P. Our work as a consortium is to focus on prevention. We do this by working with Parliamentarians, we also work with CSOs, and the private sector through an advocacy platform which is U4P. We find through evidence-based data, that at least 5% to 15% of adolescents people living in Zimbabwe have got some exposure to illicit substances,” said Hove.

In Zimbabwe, it has been estimated that approximately 3% of the adult population (450 000 people) had either a drug or alcohol use disorder (WHO). In 2012, 75% (23 168 arrests) were connected to cannabis, 56% (17 396 arrests) were connected to illegal cough mixtures (ZRP CID). Alcohol and substance use-related problems are one of the top 3 problems seen in mental health services in all 10 provinces (MOHCC).

“All of these matters point to the advocacy issues that we speak about and of course, though with a primary focus on HIV, but we know and understand that the issue of drug use is much broader and affects other spheres of life.”

The Global Fund has 10 priority actions and prevention is part one of them, hence the move by local CSOs to scale up prevention of new infection through taming the Drug and substance use scourge.

“We are working on supporting the Ministry of Health and supporting so that parliament knows which issues to table in parliament. This will enable us to enact policies that put us on the right trajectory in terms of our HIV prevention roadman but broader in terms of arresting the scourge of drug use,” added Hove.

Over 40% of young people admit to regular drinking and 15% admit to regular cannabis use. Young people admit to starting alcohol and substance use as young as 12 in Zimbabwe. Common substances abused in Zimbabwe are alcohol (both licensed and unlicensed brews), tobacco, cannabis and non-medicinal use of controlled medicines such as codeine-containing cough medicines and benzodiazepines.

Mr Raymond Yekeye, the National AIDS Council Operations Manager said the HIV response can no longer turn a blind eye to the drug and substance abuse crises.

“From the start, our major concern was mainly to do with those who inject drugs from an HIV perspective. One thing that we have noted over the past few years is that we have a lot of healthcare needs of people who inject and use drugs which are much more complex than HIV. They are also multisectoral, and cannot be addressed just from an HIV point of view,” said Mr Yekeye.

Meanwhile, Tinashe Dube, the  Project Lead for People Who USE Drufs at SAYAWHAT said there was
a need for harm reduction interventions targeting people who use and inject drugs.

“The Zimbabwe National Drug Master Plan (2020-2025) found that the most commonly used substances by research participants were cannabis (including skunk), (legal and illegal) alcohol, cough syrup (codeine), crystal meth, and – to a lesser extent – pharmaceutical drugs. The use of heroin and cocaine (both crack and powder) was relatively low. Crystal meth and pharmaceuticals are substances that were more often injected,” he said.

He added that findings from the study found that drug use may be linked to sex work and (other forms of) transactional sex, unprotected sex, and sex with multiple partners. Over 33% of the survey sample had ever injected, and more than a quarter had done so in the past month.

The Drug Masterplan data also shows that more than 50% of the women interviewed reported having ever been injected. The research revealed widespread sharing of injection materials, as well as unsafe discarding of those materials, entailing risks of reusing and sharing. There are also indications of unsafe injecting practices, such as injecting in the wrist, thigh, groin, or neck, and reports of abscesses caused by injection.

He added that prevention of HIV, viral hepatitis and STIs infection for persons who use drugs should include Harm reduction (Needle and Syringe Programme, Opiod Agonist Maintenance Treatment (OAMT) and naloxone for overdose management).

Honourable Susan Matsunga a member of the Parliamentary Portfolio Committee on Health said they would move a motion in parliament to ensure drug peddlers are brought to be book, and laws are aligned to include new drugs that are yet to be classified as dangerous drugs by Zimbabwean law.

“We need to appreciate that drugs and substances have become a menace in Zimbabwe. It’s not just a problem affecting the young but also adults. We are going to use our powers as Parliament to ensure we advocate for the amendment of laws governing drug use and drug possession to ensure that we bring to an end the crises at our hands,” said Honourable Matsunga.

The Dangerous Drugs Act in Zimbabwe is responsible for controlling the importation, exportation, production, possession, sale, distribution and use of dangerous drugs; and to provide for matters incidental thereto. Popular Sections in this Act include Sections 14 (1) and (2). This section classifies what is terms Dangerous drugs under parts one and two, it then classifies what are called prohibited drugs.







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