Success as PEPFAR saves thousands of youths from drug abuse

AS the US President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) turns 20 years in leading the fight against HIV/AIDS in Tanzania, thousands of youths have been saved from drug abuse in the country.

Statistics indicate that while more than 10,000 youths have been rescued countrywide, the PEPFAR-funded activities through the Walter Reed Army Institute of Research (WRAIR) and implemented by the Henry Jackson Foundation Military Research International (HJFMRI) reached over 700 youths in Southern Highlands regions.

Dr Alick Kayange – Senior Prevention Advisor – U.S. Embassy – Walter Reed Army Institute of Research, Department of Defence, attributed the success to PEPFAR’s strong financing and cooperation between stakeholders, including the Police Force, Prisons, Ministry of Health and the President’s Office – Regional Administration and Local Government.

He unveiled that drug users are five times likely to contract HIV than other people, adding that PEPFAR has put in place 11 centres for that cause, hailing cordial relationship between the two countries.

HJFMRI Methadone Project Coordinator, Dr Adela Peter, said when Serve Tanzania – SETA was initiated in 2017 there were about 400 addicted youths in Mbeya region.

She said they also offer methadone service to inmates who are in prisons and work with stakeholders such as peer educators to send home the right message.

Kiwanja Mpaka Health Centre Medical Officer-in-Charge, Dr Stella Moses said the centre offers friendly services to girls and young women in 10 wards, providing education on health issues, specifically related to effects of drug abuse, family planning, HIV/AIDS and Gender-Based Violence (GBV) as well as offering post GBV care.

She thanked PEPFAR and HJFMRI for their support on entry points and in getting infrastructure that keeps the clients in privacy, hence attracting more to go for care.

Ruanda Central Prison Officer In-Charge, Assistant Commissioner Isack Kangura said the prison takes care of drug abusers, after its officers were trained by WRAIR under PEPFAR on importance of assisting them, as they could be back in normal life as law abiding citizens.

“I am one of beneficiaries of this programme. Before PEPFAR chipped in we had a difficult time in dealing with these people (drug abusers); we thought we should just let them be jailed. But after PEPFAR offered support, we understood that we can deal well with drug abusers and with other stakeholders and they can be back in good health and walk of life,” said Commissioner Kangura.

He revealed that the programme started in 2022 with seven drug abusers and as of May there were two who are on methadone dose. The total number stands at 20 since the programme started. He said at the prison there are social welfare officers who offer counselling to drug addicts.

Mbeya Regional Crime Officer (RCO) Senior Superintendent of Police (SSP) Andrew Kantimbo hailed PEPFAR for an eye-opening programme that has helped a lot reduce crimes and let the youth engage in economic activities.

SSP Kantimbo said that before they started a Harm Reduction Project in the region, they knew less of communicable diseases effects and diseases that could be associated with it, but now they are well aware and guys who were on drug abuse are on methadone or have graduated, hence human resources safeguarded.

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