Chris Obiero reports from Kenya on the challenges and stigma faced by injecting drug users who are also living with HIV.
“I have narrated my story over and over to different people and to date I have not received the help I need to change my life, but I will tell you the details of how I became a single mother due to drugs,” says Fauzia.
“I am only 20 years old and I feel that my life is a waste. I started using drugs in 2000 because I was frustrated with my family and I had nobody to pay for my secondary school education. I dropped out of school in class eight before I did my certificate of primary education.”
As Fauzia talks, the tears fall down her cheeks.
“The environment around my home contributed a lot to me getting into drugs because there is a drug den nearby where peddlers go on with their day to day drug business. I was introduced by a friend of mine who would be given some to sell and we would then supply the drugs to specific people and get paid,” says Fauzia.
“I started injecting myself with heroin to feel how the rest were feeling and we did this by sharing needles more often than not. One day this caused tragic consequences after taking my supplies to a group of people who locked me in a house and repeatedly gang raped me, leading to the birth of my daughter, I don’t even know who the father is.”
Fauzia would like her life to take a different direction. She says: “Being idle makes me think a lot of evil things apart from drugs so if there are any well wishers who can help me to start a salon and purchase equipment, I would be very grateful as I am a good hair dresser. This will allow me to make ends meet and even take my daughter to school.”
Harm reduction approach
The Kenyan government is starting to get involved in tackling drug use by taking a harm reduction approach which aims to reduce the harms associated with the use of psychoactive drugs in people unable or unwilling to stop. The focus is on the prevention of harm for people who continue to use drugs, rather than preventing drug use itself.
At the Kilifi District Hospital there is a comprehensive care and research centre where free services are offered to drug users, including: HIV testing and counselling; prevention, diagnosis and treatment of TB; needle and syringe exchange programme; condom distribution for injecting drug users and their partners; and provision of antiretroviral drugs for people living with HIV.
Nelson Maina, an addiction counsellor and outreach team leader with the Muslim Education Welfare Association drop-in centre in Kilifi, said: “We treat drug users like our brothers and sisters, offering them the same services carried out at the Kilifi District Hospital with the addition of a food programme funded by well wishers and donors who supply lunch on weekdays. People can also take a bath at our centre”.
As stigma and discrimination against people who use drugs is very common in Kenya, the government and non-governmental organisations cannot completely address the challenges facing drug users without the support and understanding of the general public who also need to play their part in keeping drug users safe and healthy.