April 2nd, 2019
Wachira Charity, Communications Officer
26th March 2019 will remain a historic day for the Harm Reduction fraternity and stakeholders in the greater Eastern Africa region and globally . It is the day that the EAC council of Ministers approved the East African Community Regional Policy on Alcohol, Drugs and Substance use! a major and bold step to cementing harm reduction for people who use drugs in the region.
Three years ago, KANCO with the support of the Global Fund through the Regional HIV and Harm Reduction Project, embarked on a journey to introduce and cement harm reduction in the greater Eastern Africa region. Armed with three objectives: to improve the policy environment, the service delivery environment as well as generate evidence to inform harm reduction interventions in the region.
Confronting scepticism, prohibitive policy environment and limited information on harm reduction characterised the terrain at the start of the task ahead. Using a public health approach as an entry point, KANCO and the implementing partners formed partnerships of like-minded institutions, to help gather evidence and create the momentum for engagement.
This was against the background that, East Africa is home to about 150 million people, 260,000 among them being people who inject drugs. This constitutes about a fifth of the population of people who use drugs in Africa and growing, thus could not be ignored. This is majorly because of the role of the Eastern Africa region as a transit route as well as the growing use of drugs for recreation. Consequently this has fuelled the growth of the HIV epidemic standing at about 18%, arising from the sharing of injecting equipment and related sexual behaviour, with recent data from studies conducted in Tanzania and Kenya indicating that most of the people who inject drugs acquire HIV before the age of 25.
Harm reduction entails addressing the health, social and economic consequences faced by people who use drugs. At the heart of the intention was the understanding that policy legislation was the only sure way of cementing any gains made in the region.
Subsequently KANCO in partnership with the East African Community Secretariat and regional Harm Reduction partners embarked on developing a policy that would safeguard the gains made and create room for sustainability of harm reduction interventions. They sought to address 5 broad key policy areas: Data collection to inform Harm Reduction, Developing national harm reduction policies, Delivering interventions to people who use drugs, strengthening the capacity of PWUDs across EAC as well as creation of a supportive legal environment.
The EAC Regional Policy on Alcohol, Drugs and Other Substance
In 2016, KANCO working with the EAC Secretariat with support from the Global Fund under the HIV and Harm Reduction Regional Project for Eastern Africa, and the EAC Partner States commenced the process of developing the Policy. The International Drug Policy Consortium (IDPC) provided the initial technical support in the formulation of the draft EAC Regional Policy on Prevention, Management, and Control of Alcohol, Drug and Other Substance Use.
The policy was developed through a consultative process where it navigated various stages both at regional and national levels. This includes the literature review and data collection involved in drafting a comprehensive situational analysis; the formulation of the draft policy document; country consultations; experts’ meetings and peer review consideration and validation of the final draft. Numerous parties and individuals including Experts from the EAC Partner States, Experts from regional and international organizational including KANCO, IDPC, OSIEA, UNODC, UNAIDS, WHO, and the technical experts from the EAC Secretariat HIV and AIDS unit contributed to the development of this policy.
The EAC Regional Policy on Alcohol, Drugs and Other Substance use recognizes that alcohol, drugs and other substances use or consumption is associated with related problems arising from the complex relationship between the individual consumer of alcohol, drugs and other substances and the broader cultural, political, social, economic and physical environment. Therefore, this policy provides broad framework within which all stakeholders in the region will contribute to the reduction of the negative consequences caused by Alcohol, drugs, and other substances used in the EAC region with specific emphasis on comprehensive prevention, control and management of the harmful effects of alcohol and drug use including provision for strategies for the rehabilitation of persons with alcohol, drugs and other substance use disorders.
With the aims of the policy anchored on; prevention of the youth from initiating alcohol and drug use; control the production supply and distribution of illicit and licit alcohol as well as narcotic drugs in the region, and management of alcohol and drug related harmful effects including, Harm reduction for those that are already dependent on drugs. This policy also promotes and protects the health and well-being of the citizens of the East African Community.
Although the policy is not an end in itself it provides a platform for sensitization, advocacy and access to services, reaffirming the health and human rights of the people who use drugs. The call to the member countries stakeholders is to adopt, sensitize and promote its understanding for effective application to bridge the service gap for people who use drugs in the region. KANCO and stakeholders remain optimistic that the policy opens a new frontier to chart the harm reduction discussion.