AsTanzania grapples with drug abuse, statistics now estimate that the country is home to an estimated 25,000 heroin addicts, the Minister for Health and Social Welfare, Dr. Hussein Mwinyi revealed yesterday. But, the figure could be higher than that if the actual situation in Zanzibar, which is notorious in drugs abuse was properly documented. Reliable statistics for heroin usage in the Isles are not available, but the island's health ministry estimates that at least 7 per cent of Zanzibar's one million inhabitants are addicted to what is commonly called "brown sugar". Zanzibar is popular among tourists seeking an exotic tropical vacation destination. But beyond the idyllic locales, the island is being ravaged by heroin from Asia. Drug usage is causing rifts within Zanzibar society, but the fight against it has also led to some creative local solutions.
Heroin is cheap in Stone Town. Users in Zanzibar say they can pick up one foil-wrapped dose on the street for around Sh4800 ($3). Addicts call it "brown sugar."
According to the Zanzibar AIDS Commission, the island lies on a major corridor for drugs trafficked across the Indian Ocean from Asia. This means that the supply is plentiful. One shot of heroin-called a kete in mainland as well as Zanzibar-costs a mere Sh1500. And those who can't afford it practice blood flushing-a method used by addicts to draw back a needlesful of blood after they have shot up heroin and sell the thinned fix to the next person, the Mail and Guardian, South Africa's weekly investigative newspaper reported recently. Speaking during the launch of the second Medication Assisted Treatment (MAT) clinic at Mwananyamala Regional Hospital in Dar es Saalaam yesterday, the minister said recent studies show that 45 percent of men and 72 percent of women who inject heroin were also found to be HIV-positive. He said infection rates were more than five times than HIV infection in drug users who do not use injections. "These figures are alarming considering they just do not infect each other but can also have high risk contacts with non drug using members of the community," the minister noted. MAT services at Mwananyamala hospital will directly be linked with the Tanzania AIDS Prevention Programme's community outreach component, providing services to people who inject themselves with drugs, as well as provide escorts for those referral to the Mwananyamala hospital for inpatient detoxification. Christopher Shekiondo, the commissioner for drug control, said that Kinondoni municipality had the highest number of drug abusers across the country. The introduction of a methadone treatment center for drug users in this facility will enable more users of drugs to access such outreach services, and hence help reduce the number of drug users, he said. Working in close liaison with the ministry of health, the commission's main task is to control the importation and use of illegal drugs in the country. Over the past five years, it has prepared a comprehensive national plan to provide such services. Dr Richard Needle, senior public health advisor from the office of the Global Fund on HIV/AIDS, says Tanzania was only beneficiary of the project in Africa, mainly because the government had demonstrated its commitment to its objectives. About 10 percent of drug users need this service, he said, pointing out that methadone was the best available antidote to improve the condition of drug abusers, saying it helps rectify "lost capacity for resisting intoxicating drugs." Rehema Ali Hamisi, who grew up using heroin, told The Guardian that she had used drugs nearly eight years, and that she was completely dependent on them. "I used to sell all clothes of my children's clothes … as well as my own belongings so that I could get money to buy heroin … I wasn't alone in this … my husband was also using drugs," said Rehema. US Ambassador Alfonso Lenhardt said that medication assisted treatment, also known as the methadone therapy, was exactly the kind of intervention aimed at helping people at higher risk of HIV infection. The therapy has shown evidence of reducing risky behaviours associated with drug injections, which contribute to HIV transmission, alongside using non-sterile injection needles and engaging in commercial sex, he said. "With support from the American people through the Presidential Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) and the centres for disease control and prevention, and in collaboration with the government of the United Republic, the first clinic of continental Sub-Saharan Africa was opened just over a year ago at Muhimbili National Hospital," the envoy explained. "As the first of its kind in the region, the programme began cautiously with hopes of serving around 200 clients. I am happy to report that the Muhimbili MAT clinic now has a current enrollment of over 500 individuals," he added. SOURCE: THE GUARDIAN