Kenya: Drug users need doctors not policemen


Kenya: Drug users need doctors not policemen

23 February 2016

By Bernice Apondi

The government has in recent years increasingly embraced various public health interventions for reducing exposure to harm by people who use drugs. First was the introduction of the needle and syringe programmes and more recently, the Medically Assisted Treatment (MAT) using methadone – a substitute drug for treating heroin addiction – under what is known as the Harm Reduction strategy.

Harm Reduction refers to policies, programme and practices that aim to reduce the dangers associated with use of psychotropic drugs in people unable or unwilling to break drug addiction.

The recent increase in drug use in the country, coupled with the rising HIV epidemic among key populations calls for a critical review of how drug using populations are managed. The National Aids and STIs Control Programme estimates that people who inject drugs are responsible for 3.8 per cent of new HIV infections. The prevalence rate among this population is 18 per cent, three times that of the general population (5.6 per cent).

With an estimated 18,000 people in Kenya who inject drugs, it is crucial to scale up drug dependency treatment.

The MAT programme was consequently initiated and now acts as an effective tool and evidence-based treatment meant to help wean people from injecting drug use and reduce their risk of HIV infection.

It is largely due to successes in this regard that the United States President’s Emergency Plan for Aids Relief (PEPFAR) chose to make this programme part of a package of services to address the needs of those most vulnerable to HIV infection. Mathari Teaching and Referral Hospital in Kenya hosts the country’s first-ever MAT programme funded by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID).

But these gains notwithstanding, drug policies around the globe have conventionally focused on the principle of deterrence and demand reduction. This has been done through attempts to eliminate production, distribution, sale and use of drugs. To achieve this, severe penalties and fines have been imposed on those involved in the drugs trade or consumption. It was believed that such punishment or the threat of it would reduce, and eventually cripple the global drug market.

It has now been widely admitted that this approach has failed to reduce the scale of the drug market and spawned negative consequences, which include an increased number of people in prisons around the world due to drugs.

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