Stakeholders in the fight against drug abuse within the coastal region remain worried that the adverse effects of coronavirus pandemic could wipe out gains realized in containing the vice.
With the learning calendar having witnessed unparalleled interruptions, a high number of young people across the region have indulged in the vice with catastrophic consequences.
Outside the Omari project’s compound in Malindi, a facility that provides preventative interventions for persons who use drugs, dozens gather. Those gathered, are here to collect their doses of methadone, as they struggle to overcome their struggles with heroin addiction, with statistics indicating that there are in excess of 2,717 active injecting drug users in Magarini and Malindi sub-counties alone.
It is a struggle that resonates with Grace Wairimu, a recovering drug addict, whose six years’ experience as a heroin addict almost cost her life. “Drug users often suffer rejection from their families, a situation that always result in self-denial by the victims.” she laments. According to Wairimu, their options are limited to engaging in crime, and for women, prostitution as a means of earning a living. “Women who use drugs are often forced to have sex with men in exchange for drugs or to get cash to buy drugs” she says.
Now on her way to full recovery, hers is a story of misgivings but one that is painted with hope, that finally, she has reformed and ready to start her life anew. “I regret that I had lost trust from family and friends after soiling my name. No one trusts you, but if you change you start gaining trust,” She observes.
But for others, like Franklin Kibagendi who suffered a relapse, three years after quitting drugs, the struggle continues. “I have now surrendered to fate. I have limited options but to continue with the cycle. I sell bhang whose proceeds I use to buy heroin,” he says.
Having been introduced to the dark world of illegal drugs by his peers, the will to quit the addiction has been overpowered by the fear of the unknown. His account on the effects of heroin on his body as graphical as they are disturbing. “My body aches badly if I fail to use my regular dose of heroin, I become violent. Am only able to engage you as I have already injected myself, he tells me.
Those like Kibagendi who inject themselves with drugs left dangerously exposed to a variety of health hazards including possible HIV infection. The obtaining situation leaving stakeholders in the fight against drugs and infectious diseases worried. According to Omari Mwanjama, the National Aids Control Council coast regional coordinator, incidences of drug and alcohol abuse and related anti-social behaviour have tremendously increased in the recent past. Mwanjama says there is a need to put in place structures which will address health systems up to the community level. “Once we empower the community, that’s where we can be able to address most health issues”. Posits Mwanjama.
And with COVID-19 pandemic interrupting the learning calendar, concern remains rife that the number of young people engaging in the vice especially within major urban centers is bound to surge. It is a situation so dire that the Kilifi county government is already putting in place elaborate strategies to address possible challenges posed by the resultant interruptions. County executive in charge of health services James Karisa says the county administration has already embarked on a mapping exercise to establish the relationship between Covid-19 and social vices including drug addiction, teenage pregnancies and gender based violence.
“Early indicators show that there could be a retrogression in the efforts. The county government is consolidating information to acquire data that will guide in the development of interventions.” Says Karisa.
The situation in the coast region just but a reflection of what the country could be faced with as it readjusts its learning calendar to make for time lost amid uncertainties over exactly when COVID-19 will be dealt a hammer blow and the old normal return.