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Progress made in fighting illicit drugs in Zanzibar

Progress made in fighting illicit drugs in Zanzibar

KHADIJA Yussuf, famous as ‘bingwa,’ a Kiswahili for champion, is celebrating her third year after abandoning using illicit drugs. She was an addict for seven years.

“I am happy to be free from the addiction,” she says. She says drugs, reckless unprotected sex, and being homeless, put her on risk of contracting HIV and other sexual transmitted infections.

The 33-year old woman is among 3,161 youth who have abandoned drugs after a rehabilitation programme at a sober house.A total of 9,030 youth in Zanzibar joined sober house between 2009 and end of last year.

According to the ‘Commission for National Co-ordination and Drug Control, Zanzibar (CNCDZ), Executive Director, Kheriyangu Mgeni Khamis during the period sober house lost contact with 271 youth who had recovered from using the drugs, 813 youth who turned to other drugs, and 4,786 who relapsed after a period of being clean from drug abuse.

“Although some youth who had been helped (in sober houses) to abandon drugs abuse are back using it, this has been a successful campaign against illicit drugs. However further concerted efforts are needed to end drugs abuse,” she said.

Ms Khamis says her office has been working tirelessly to stop importation, supply, and use of illicit drugs. The war against illicit drugs has engaged almost everyone in Zanzibar due to multiple measures to increase public awareness of the problems related to drugs, law review and commitment from the government and law enforcing organs.

She said that increased collaboration between the police, the Zanzibar Anti-corruption and Economic Crime Authority (ZAECA), and the Director of Public Prosecutor (DPP) have helped to control the ‘importation, distribution and use of the illicit drugs.” “We also improved data collections of drugs abuse related cases, in order to have reliable assessment of the drugs trafficking in the country,” the executive director said.

It is also estimated that there are between 10,000 and 12,000 people addicted to heroin in Zanzibar, according to the government’s drugs control unit. Zanzibar’s island location makes it susceptible to the heroin trade from Afghanistan and Pakistan, which are located across the Indian Ocean from the East African coast.

In his speech before dissolving the House of Representatives, President Ali Mohamed Shein mentioned that decline in importation, distribution, and use of the drugs in the country as among admirable successes recorded during his ten-year term ending.

Dr Shein commended the ‘Commission for National Co-ordination and Drug Control in collaboration with anti-smuggling unit/coast guard (KMKM), DPP, sober houses and international development partners for the campaign success.

He also praised the education and Vocational training Ministry; Health Ministry; and other campaigners including individuals and NGOs for supporting war against illicit drugs.

“It is possible to have Zanzibar free of drugs,” he emphasized. The President said war against drugs were strengthened when his seventh phase of government started in 2010 and that success has been recorded with an increase of reported cases and criminals taken to court.

For example, he said 183 drugs cases were reported in 2015 and the number increased to 354 in 2016 and 694 in 2017. The rising trend continued to 2018 where 654 cases were reported and shot up to 503 last year.

“This has been remarkable achievement in the war against substance abuse in the country, but we have to continue the battle and win. We do not need drugs in our country,” the President said as he reminded civil servants of accountability in serving the nation.

Mr Mohamed Aboud Mohamed says Zanzibar had been mentioned frequently as the main gateway, transit and trafficking for drugs particularly heroin to Europe, and the USA. It is estimated that there are more than 200 million drug users globally while Zanzibar has more than 10,000.

The affected include the most vulnerable groups’ mainly young women and men between the age of 15 and 50. Drugs business is linked to poverty, domestic conflict, armed robbery, death, accidents, STIs, mental health problem, unplanned pregnancies and hepatitis B and C among other health problems.

“We have been taking different measures to ensure we stop drugs in Zanzibar and also join and support the global campaign to stop drugs business and trafficking,” he said adding that the construction of a new rehabilitation centre at Kidimni village, Central District.

The Minister also said that improvement of sober houses in the country and treating addicts with methadone treatment at the psychiatric hospital- Kidongochekundu, and the amendment of the ‘drugs and prevention of illicit traffic drugs Act no.9 of 2009,’ are other measures taken to control the use and the impact of drugs.

Under the reviewed law, penalty has been increased to life sentence and property of drugs dealer is confiscated and nationalised convicted criminal. He said that war on drugs should continue as planned along increased public awareness and treatment of the addicted youth to rescue them from the substance abuse.

Mr Mohamed emphasized, “The government will continue to take serious action against drugs dealers, and any person engaged will be punished regardless of his /her status in the government. Production or growing of cannabis (bhang), importation, transportation, and sale/distribution remain an offence.

He said despite the progress in Zanzibar, important challenges remain ahead, among which stopping young people from using the drugs, as many Idle or jobless youth still easily get engaged in using the drugs.

World Drug report 2020 says drug use around the world has been on the rise as in 2018, there were 269 million drug users, and 35.6 million people suffered from drug use disorders. Poverty, limited education and social marginalisation increase the risk of drug use addiction.

The report says adolescents and young adults account for the largest share of those using drugs and that this age group grew by 16 per cent in developing countries (over the 2000-2018 period), while it declined by ten percent in developed countries.

Cannabis (bhang) is the most used substance with 192 million recorded in 2018, while opioids the most harmful accounted for 66 percent of the estimated 167,000 deaths related to drug use disorders in 2017.

According to the reports, the reduction in air and land traffic resulting from Covid-19 restrictions affected international trafficking of heroin and that new maritime routes may emerge and also direct cocaine shipments by sea from South America to Europe have recently been reported.

Opioid shortages caused by Covid-19 restrictions are leading users to substitute with more readily available substances, e.g. alcohol, benzodiazepines, or to mix with synthetic drugs as some users may switch to injecting, or more frequent injecting.

Opioid(s) are a class of drugs that include the illegal drug heroin, synthetic opioids such as fentanyl, and pain relievers available legally by prescription.

Cannabis remains the main drug that brings people into contact with the criminal justice system: Over 50 percent of the people brought into contact with the criminal justice system for drug offences are brought because of cannabis, the report says.

Executive Director, UN Office on Drugs and Crime, Ms Ghada Waly said that “All over the world, we see that risks and consequences of drug use are worsened by poverty, limited opportunities for education and jobs, stigma and social exclusion, which in turn helps to deepen inequalities, moving us further away from achieving the Sustainable Development Goals.”

In her message to the Word Drugs Day, she said the Covid-19 crisis has intensified these challenges further still, overwhelming health systems and exposing the fragility of institutions and social safety nets.

She said the theme of this year’s International Day against Drug Abuse and Illicit Trafficking, “Better Knowledge for Better Care”, highlights the need to understand drug dynamics trapping so many millions of people in a downward spiral, to inform balanced solutions that are based on scientific evidence, to know better what the issues are and to provide better care for those who need it.

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