By Africanews

It’s 10 in the morning in Abidjan, Côte d’Ivoire.

Like every morning, Arouna Bakari (not his real name), mask on his face, washes his hands before entering a “smoking room”, as people who use drugs call the open drug-taking places in Abidjan. He checks that the hand washing sink installed in front of the smoking room is working properly. He can now start his work and distribute prevention equipment against COVID-19 to the people who gather there.

Mr Bakari works for Parole Autour de la Sante (PAS), a community-led organization made up of people who use drugs and former people who use drugs, their relatives and social scientists. It operates the first “therapeutic community”, a mixed residential programme for people who use drugs, in western Africa.

Created in Côte d’Ivoire in 2016, PAS promotes the health of people who use drugs through harm reduction and services for HIV, tuberculosis, sexually transmitted infections and hepatitis. Since October 2019, thanks to funding from OSIWA (the Open Society for West Africa), PAS has strengthened its activities, with a focus on the respect of the human rights of people who use drugs—still a highly stigmatized and discriminated against community—and their access to health services. This is why Mr Bakari, in addition to his work in the smoking rooms, also trains health workers, journalists and the security forces.

There have been harm reduction programmes in Côte d’Ivoire for some years now. Community organizations have been set up and work with the national AIDS programme, the national institutions in charge of drug policy and the international nongovernmental organization Médecins du Monde.