On March 13th, 2013, Kenya AIDs NGOs Consortium (KANCO), through the Community Action on Harm Reduction project, met with 30 active and recovering injecting drug users under Kenya Network of People who use Drugs (KENPUD) in Kawangware district in Nairobi, Kenya. The aim of the meeting was to identify some of the challenges they face, hear their needs and from that map out ways of dealing with those challenges.
Shelter, food and clothing were identified as some of the basic needs that injecting drug users lack. “Most people stigmatize us just because we have dirty and torn clothes, they blame us for theft and crimes that occur in the community,” says Peter N’gan’ga, an active drug user.
Other concern raised was harassment from the police, “The police beat us even when we are not on the wrong,” says Benson Njuguna, an active drug user, pointing at some of the scars he had left from several beatings he had received from the police.
They also identified that their lack of jobs was as a result of rejection from the employers and their families, stating that the employers and the community did not have confidence in them and that they are viewed as people who cannot deliver their duties.
From these challenges, they identified some of the areas they needed KANCO and KENPUD to intervene, applauding the CAHR project and the introduction of the Needle and Syringe programme whereby injecting drug users are offered with needles and syringes and counselling programmes.
They also requested to be provided with methadone, a substitute for their drugs to enable them deal with the withdrawal symptoms. “I go through a painful moment when on withdrawal. People might think that I am sick and this is what makes me want to get another fix,” says Peter.
In Kenya, methadone is provided in private rehabilitation centres at a high price and this makes it difficult for the drug users to afford it. To eliminate stigma, they proposed for sensitization at the community level starting from the family unit. “Once your family discovers that you use drugs, they throw you out and don’t want to be associated with you anymore. This rejection is what made me go deeper into drugs,” says Judy Mumbi, KENPUD Secretary and a rehabilitated drug user.
“Link drug use to HIV-infection and let the community know that the two go hand in hand,” says Benson Njuguna, an active drug user. With professional guidance from KANCO’s Senior Policy and Advocacy Manager, Margaret Macharia, the participants were able to outline some of the activities they would be engaged in in the next three months to improve their living standards and help them through recovery. One of the major activities was to organize a clean-up activity whereby they would team up and collect any littered needle and syringe in their dens and the surrounding environment.