By Caitlin Mahon

Getting life-saving harm reduction services to people who use drugs in Burundi was the aim of a recent learning trip to Kenya supported by the World Health Organization (WHO). This saw a team of Burundian physicians and health advocates travel to Mombasa County, Kenya, to learn about good practice from one of the pioneers of harm reduction on the African continent.

Led by Burundian non-profit, Jeunesse au Clair Medical (JCM), the team of physicians and health advocates are pushing for a comprehensive package of harm reduction interventions in Burundi. Like many other countries in Africa, injecting drug use is not often acknowledged, and a public health response therefore not implemented.

Harm reduction approaches

Drug use is widely criminalised and stigmatised and its complexities misunderstood. WHO defines harm reduction as an evidence-based public health response that includes the provision of needle and syringe programmes (NSP), opioid substitution therapy (OST) and access to testing and treatment of HIV, tuberculosis (TB) and viral hepatitis B and C.

Keen to gain insight into the Kenyan experience and inform the development of a programme in Burundi, the Burundian team of doctors, a counsellor and a national coordinator of a network of people who used drugs, visited the Reach Out Center Trust in Mombasa. They observed the delivery of OST programmes and learnt about advocacy with local influencers – in an excellent example of south-to-south learning.