Lack of jobs, skills hurting recovery of drugs addicts
Kaswar Mbarak Jelan, 31, is accompanied by his spouse Jacinta Mbinya, 30, and their two-year-old daughter as they saunter Kisauni dispensary. They are both recovering heroin addicts besides being HIV positive.
At the facility, they walk straight to the methadone-dispensing window, where they join a long queue of other heroin addicts waiting to be served with their respective dosage of Medically Assisted Therapy (MAT).
Behind the dispensing window, an attendant is busy tracking particulars of specific patients electronically via MethaMeasure system displayed on a computer screen before dispensing the needed amount in a transparent disposable cup.
Each of the recovering drug addicts registered under the MAT programme, is provided with a card that bears a unique identification number. Once they arrive at the dispensing window, each individual is required to say out the unique number which is then keyed in on the system and a profile page is displayed with prescription details such as name, age, photo and the volume of dosage to be administered.
Once the attendant confirms the details, she commands a pump automatically via desktop computer and the patient gets the dosage in accordance with doctor’s prescription. A total of 11 one-litre bottles of methadone are dispensed daily according to attendant pharmacist in-charge.
For his case, Jelan, who hails from Old Town, has been on the programme for the last two years after suffering repeated relapse in initial stages.
“I started using methadone at Coast Provincial General Hospital four years ago but then it didn’t work. I was even taken to rehabilitation centres for more than five times. I was in very bad shape, my family even disowned me,” he says. Life was too hard and that is when I decided to visit the MAT programme at the Kisauni Methadone Clinic where he was referred through assistance of Reachout Centre Trust, a locally-based organisation that focuses on harm reduction on drug users.
“It was during the counselling sessions that I met my spouse and we got married. By then, she was already a single mother of two,” he says, adding that they have since been blessed with another child. He says since he started the programme two years ago, he no longer craves for heroin because methadone quenches craving. I am happy that my family has started accepting me as their own. Now he lives with his wife and children at Bombolulu in Nyali sub-county.
The couple is among the 1,000 recovering drug users from across Mombasa county served at the clinic daily.
Programme coordinator Dr Mahad Hassan says among the addicts, there are 865 males and 135 females.
While the programme seems to progressing well, Hassan is concerned that the number of drug users is increasing day by day noting that with just one clinic, it is impossible to meet the huge demand.
“The number of patients served in this clinic is not even five per cent of the drug users because we believe there are more than 20,000 heroin users in the county,” he says. “Both levels of government and private sector need to find ways of dealing with the menace. Although there are efforts to start another centre in Likoni, still it is not enough to cover the number…if it were possible, all the wards or sub counties should have a clinic.”
Questions abound on how then the drugs menace in Mombasa can be tackled, with tens of thousands of addicts still unreachable? According to Interior Cabinet secretary Dr Fred Matiang’i, the government is finalising plans to convert National Youths Service Technical Training College Miritini sub-station into a modern drugs treatment and rehabilitation centre.
According to Hassan, plans are on course to open another methadone clinic inside Shimo la Tewa Maximum Prison to serve inmates who are addicted to heroin.
The Kisauni Mat clinic, which is under County Government of Mombasa, was funded by various international donors among them United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC). The clinic partners with local organisations including Reachout Center Trust and Kisauni- based Mewa Rehabilitation centre. Said Ali Ngoni from Matuga, Kwale County, says his regular concentration on the therapy enabled him to wean off addiction to heroin after abusing the drug for 22 years.
“I am free from drugs for the last three years …I have put up a two-bedroom house in Kwale where I reside with my family. Anyone who saw me five years ago can only see this as a miracle,” Ngoni says.
Dr Hassan says medical assisted therapy is meant to reduce the urge for heroin but insists for the programme to be successful, patients are supposed to take therapy consistently for at least one year.
He says around 30 others have relapsed for playing outside the rules in the past year. Unemployment, however, remains a major challenge among most recovering addicts who say after recovering, they are forced to do volunteer work. Most patients are concerned that rejection by families and the community at large makes their life after recovery even worse.
Reachout Centre Trust director Taib Abdulrahaman says over 50 addicts have gone through the methadone programme and fully recovered.
One such recovering patient is 43-year-old Makame Mbwana, who says despite forming and registering a group – Kiwewe Recovery Group hoping to get funding and start a business, his efforts have been fruitless.
“I was a heroin addict for more than 20 years before I was rehabilitated. I suffered several relapses before the Mat programme came. Now I am fully recovered but I am forced to volunteer with Reachout Center Trust because it is very difficult to get a job. I have a registered group but every door I knock to seek funding nobody appears to trust me,” the father of three says.
“I am an experienced driver. I have a family to feed yet I have to volunteer. Coming for mat clinic itself was not easy because I would trek for 10 kilometres from Likoni to Kisauni and back daily to get the treatment,” he says.
Mohammed Msellem, addiction Counsellor at Mewa Rehabilitation Centre, says idleness amongst the recovering addicts is a major setback in the fight against drugs and addiction in the region.
“This is a challenge for the government to come up with training programmes and offer gainful employment to the addicts to keep them busy,” Msellem says.
Kaluma Maghanga from Mlaleo, Kisauni, one of the few youths who has been able to a start a car wash business at Bakarani in Kisauni after undergoing through Mat, says: “When I completed the programme, I was just idle and I could easily relapse but now I am very busy. I eat, drink, dress and live from my own pocket.”