HIV priority for Kenya at United Nations summit on drugs

As world leaders meet in New York this week to discuss drugs, Kenya is proposing innovative approaches to tackling the drug problem as a way of managing the HIV epidemic.

As world leaders meet in New York this week to discuss drugs, Kenya is proposing innovative approaches to tackling the drug problem as a way of managing the HIV epidemic.

Ahead of the UN General Assembly Special Session on drugs (UNGASS) taking place 19-21 April, Kenya has prepared an integrated strategy document on the relation between drug abuse and HIV to be presented at the meeting. It calls for the integration of drug abuse education into primary, tertiary and university education. Kenya also proposes that the curriculum should make use of social media, recreation and peer education to promote HIV prevention, treatment and care.

Kenya argues that HIV and drug addiction should be viewed as a chronic but treatable phenomenon. Consequently, resources and supportive structures should be put in place including medical cover for drug addiction treatment. Kenya is promoting universal treatment for those who inject drugs, targeting everyone affected, including people in prisons and informal settlements.

The president of Kenya, Uhuru Kenyatta, has declared zero-tolerance to drug trafficking and leads efforts in deporting international drug traffickers, destroying drug merchants’ vessels and setting up addiction treatment facilities. Noting the correlation between the spread of HIV and drugs abuse, the president said in a recent State of the Nation address: “Kenya encourages voluntary participation and consent in treatment of persons who have developed substance abuse disorders and will provide structures for integration into the society. This will be done through national and international standards and protocols to provide treatment, rehabilitation and reintegration as well as training for health and caregivers.”

Drugs and HIV

Trafficking and the abuse of narcotics and other illicit drugs have become major socio-economic problems affecting the Africa and other parts of the world. Globally, around 12.7 million people inject drugs and approximately 1.7 million of them are living with HIV (UNAIDS). On average, one in ten new HIV infections are caused by sharing of injecting equipment (World Health Organization). The International HIV/AIDS Alliance says that the sharing of injecting equipment among drug users is driving HIV and hepatitis C transmission worldwide, with a third of new HIV infections in sub-Saharan Africa being due to unsafe injecting.

The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) data shows that drug use continues to increase, and is predicted to rise a further 25 per cent by 2050.  UNODC notes that most countries use a punitive approach to drug users and dealers, through arrests, incarceration, criminal penalties and compulsory detention.

UNODC country representative Jose Castillo promises support for Kenya’s contributions to global efforts to prevent and mitigate spread of HIV among drug users. He notes that five years ago Kenya was only a transit point but has become a major destination for drugs. He said: “New and emerging drugs target our largely youthful population as they provide a long term market. This is true for Africa and the rest of the developing world whose populations are largely youthful.”

According to the International HIV/AIDS Alliance, the world will not meet the target to end AIDS by 2030 unless countries reform their drug policies. The UN is also calling for harm reduction approaches to HIV and drug use and supports decriminalisation of people who use drugs.

Part of Kenya’s solution is advocating for: peer-based, clean needle and syringe programmes; opiate substitution therapy; and HIV testing. Kenya is also currently reviewing the Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances Control Act (1994), and plans to enhance prevention work in schools, work places and communities.

KANCO’s work in Kenya

Bernice Apondi from Kenya Aids NGOs Consortium (KANCO) says in order to contain the spread of HIV, countries must reduce the adverse health, social and economic consequences of legal and illegal psychoactive drugs. In Kenya, KANCO has been working with people who inject drugs since 1997, but has seen an increase in heroin use in the past two years. The harm reduction programme reaches out annually to over 292,000 people who inject drugs.

KANCO is also spearheading the community action on harm reduction project, introduced in 2012 and has reached out to 9,000 people who inject drugs through the needle and syringe programme aimed at reducing HIV infections. Some of the challenges include limited resources, stigma and discrimination. KANCO is calling for the fostering of regional partnerships in policy and programming, embracing harm reduction as a cost-effective solution to increased cases of HIV among drug users.

Kenya’s position on drugs stems from the 2013 Addis Ababa Declaration and Plan of Action on Drug Control, where African countries agreed to speak with one voice and to act in unity towards the world drug problem. In the continent, the drug problem remains a common and shared responsibility that requires effective and increased international cooperation and demands an integrated and balanced approach to drug supply, demand reduction strategies. Kenya has hope that the UNGASS meeting on drugs will be a good step in the right direction.

Read: hope for human rights and drug policy reform at UNGASS 2016


  • comment-avatar

    Good one from Kenya. I hope other African leaders and some Asian countries will take lessons from them.