Bulawayo – Preliminary findings of the Situational analysis of drug use and injection in five provinces in Zimbabwe, presented at the Global Fund AGYW and KP Programme Review Meeting in Bulawayo have indicated that drug use is a rising problem in Zimbabwe, with potential to raise the risk of HIV acquisition among drug and non-drug users.
Major reasons cited for starting drug use included peer pressure, economic stress, trauma, discrimination based on sexual orientation, curiosity, sex work coping, and others.
As well as traditional drugs such as cannabis, more users are turning to “backyard laboratory drugs” such as crystal meth, codeine, cough syrup, heroin and others. The presentation revealed various worrying emerging practices among drug users, including “bluetoothing”, which refers to withdrawal of blood from one person who has injected drugs and injecting the blood in friends as a way of sharing the drug.
In response to the findings and the discussions on strategic needs and support, partners expressed commitment to support and scale up response interventions. Mrs Sarah Musungwa, the UNDP’s Health, Human Rights and Development Specialist said, “Our programming is informed by data and evidence from this study will be useful. As the country reviews the Zimbabwe National HIV and AIDS Strategic Plan IV, we have an opportunity to request support from the Global Fund to sharpen our response towards drug users. We should ensure that we make drug use safe so that it is not a channel for HIV transmission”. This was complemented by Dr. Helga Musyoki, the Key Populations Advisor in the Global Fund, who said, “We will sit down with the country team and see if we can move resources to support interventions in this direction. Let us not wait for a crisis to unfold”.
Dr Musyoki also commended the Government of Zimbabwe for showing relevant political leadership and commitment, which was amply demonstrated through the establishment of an inter-ministerial taskforce on drug and substance abuse. The development of the Drug Master Plan by the Government has also been hailed as a major sign of political and administrative commitment.
The master plan emphasises response based on 5 pillars approach, which are:
- Supply Reduction
- Demand Reduction
- Harm Reduction
- Community Reintegratrion
- Treatment and Rehabilitation
On behalf of the National AIDS Council, Ms Tendai Mbengeranwa the Key Populations Coordinator reported that NAC had already requested its District AIDS Coordinators in selected districts to facilitate formation of support groups for drug users, which will serve as entry points for programming in 2023. The same districts have also been requested to include pilot interventions in their 2023 budgets and plans.
Other partners indicated that they will develop relevant interventions once the study report has been completed and shared.
Participants from the community of drug users lamented the current knee jerk response practices, which regards drug users as mental health patients instead of being informed by the 5 pillars above.
The study was funded by the Global Fund Community and Rights Group, UNAIDS and NAC.