Drugs tear into the social fabric like no other social ill
Despite regular busts by the police and pledges by the security agencies to fight illegal drugs, substance abuse remains a major problem, affecting East Africa’s young people and spreading its tentacles of disease, mayhem and ruin through society. An international agency last year estimated that there are about 1,300,000 million drug addicts in East Africa alone, or roughly 1 percent of the region population. The agency has said that about 40 percent of addicts inject drugs and that 70 percent of those users are infected with HIV, the virus that causes AIDS. The five Governments figures also estimate that about 50,000 people die each year in East Africa as a result of drug abuse, either from an overdose or from AIDS. Tragically, most victims of drugs are young people. Figures also show that once infected with the disease of drug addiction, it is terribly difficult to ever get free. About 90 percent of addicts who kick their habit relapse within a year, according to latest data.In addition, as the use of intravenous drugs has risen in East African countries of Uganda, Kenya, Rwanda, Burundi and Tanzania over the last five years or so, growing numbers of people are falling victim to HIV/AIDS, which is commonly passed on by drug users sharing needles with coastal regions of Tanzania and Kenya the worst affected areas.
From a negligible percentage in the early 1980s, the largest source of HIV/AIDS infections in the region is now intravenous drug use, which is responsible for about a third of all infections in the five countries. In 1990 it accounted for just 0.1 percent of infections, and by 2010 it reached 29.3 percent of reported AIDS cases, according to the crunched Health Ministries in the region data. There has been a steep increase in the number of drug-related cases in the region in recent years, another sign of growing abuse. There are widespread reports of methamphetamine laboratories grinding out large quantities, the very addictive street drug that can be snorted, smoked or injected. On any weekend in Dar Es Salaam, Nairobi, Kampala thousands of young people seek out nightclubs where they can dose themselves with widely available party drugs that are sold with impunity.This is a nothing less than a fight to save East African youth and hence the region’s future. Drugs tear into the social fabric like no other social ill and the East African governments must elevate this issue as a top priority and establish a special team to combat the problem.