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Let’s decentralise therapy for addicts

By Christopher Owuor
Monday, July 6th, 2020
Julia Jung of Medicines Sans frontiers. Photo/Courtesy

JULIA JUNG, the project coordinator for Medicines Sans Frontiers medically assisted therapy programme run in conjunction with the Ministry of Health though Nascop, LVCT Health and Kiambu County Government talks to Clifford Akumu about the impact of the project  

Kindly give us the landscape of drug abuse across Kiambu county?

In 2018, Nascop and LVCT Health conducted a mapping programme on the number of people who use drugs in the county and found more than 6,000 people. These were acquired from related drug dens, meaning the figure might be higher.

A huge number of drug users around Kenya have been put on Medically Assisted Therapy (MAT) clinic programmes, and there is significant progress.However, several other users are not covered.

We still need to do a lot of work to reach more to help reduce the burden of psychoactive substance use.

Most of these drug users are not able to access preventive care and treatment due to lack of income, food support for those who are still actively using drugs and hygiene measures owing in mind the additional challenge of Covid-19.

This year’s International Day against Drug Abuse and Illicit Trafficking celebrations come on the shadows of Covid-19 pandemic. How are you faring in this region?

Truly, Covid-19 has brought major challenges to healthcare systems and public health policies globally.

Due to social and economic changes caused by the pandemic, along with the traditional difficulties regarding treatment access and adherence-this period is likely to aggravate drug user’s conditions.

It was also difficult to implement preventive measures in the drug dens. Together with LVCT Health we have provided them with water buckets and soaps for hand washing, provided them with masks and a series of public health education though our peer educators on the Covid-19 preventive measures. 

Due to hiked fares, numerous road blocks and imposed curfew directives, some drug users have not been able to keep up with care and treatment.

However, in most vulnerable situations we support them with bus fare to attend clinics and take their daily dose of methadone. 

A surge in Covid-19 pandemic across the country will mean restrictions in movement and the best way to beat this is by decentralising MAT services so that those who need it most are able to access it.

This will be two fold; adding preventive measures for patients and active users and also finding economic solutions to the most vulnerable in terms of food donations or transport to enable them access treatment and care. 

What would be your advice to those on the verge of trying substance abuse and those who are already battling withdrawal syndromes?

At the MSF clinic, we are not so much in the primary prevention. But drug users should be aware of how fast it can go and how it is easy to get addicted.

Most drug users get into it unknowingly, and there should think about the negative impacts it can have on their health, future,education and parents and how it is difficult to get out of it.

Addiction from substance abuse is years of journey, sometimes lifelong. Trying a drug sometimes, could mean getting hooked for life. 

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