Friday, February 25, 2011

SAVING YOUTH FROM DRUG, HIV/AIDS THROUGH MEATHADONE TREATMENT


Finnigan Wa Simbeye

THEY look frail and aged. Most of them are young-men aged 28-40 years but their faces bear hallmarks of individuals gone through a troubled life.

"I just want to regain my dignity in society, drug use has made me a laughing stock at home," said Hamad Mussa Hamisi, a 39 year old former heroine addict currently on Methadone Assisted Therapy (MAT) at Muhimbili National Hospital.

Methadone treatment involves a daily dose of between 1-1.5mm of the solution which lasts up to 30 hours depending on the victim's level of heroine consumption. Between six and 24 months victims get weaned from drug consumption, experts said.

Popularly known as 'Mateja' in the community, most drug abusers are regretting joining a group of people whose lives are being destroyed by narcotics. Once regarded as only a transit point of narcotics, Tanzania is now bearing the brunt of lifestyles practiced by rich celebrities of the North, using narcotics

Narcotic consumption is becoming a real problem and authorities are quickly taking measures to address the problem. One such initiative is a joint Methadone Assisted Therapy by Muhimbili National Hospital and Muhimbili University for Health and Allied Sciences with support from President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) through Centre for Disease Control.

This infection rate is several times higher than the national average which is around 5-8 percent and doctors at MNH and MUHAS sensed the danger hence took a bold step of approaching PEPFAR for funding.

Dr. Mbwambo who is in charge of the MAT at MNH said use of injections indiscriminately among drug users because of ignorance and poverty exposes them to HIV and AIDS. In addition, she said influence of drugs also exposes them to having unprotected sex with multiple partners.

"Sometimes they even flush blood to share drugs amongst themselves if in short of money," said Dr. Mbwambo. Forty seven year old Kaloli Mattias, a resident of Msasani acknowledges that blood flushing or sharing blood from one drug user to another happens, though rarely.

"We are only dealing with heroine users because they involve use of injections which puts them at high risk of contracting HIV/AIDS," says Dr. Fausta Phillip of MNH. She says most the victims who are referred by partner non-governmental organizations, undergo several tests before Methadone treatment starts to establish their health status.

Drug abuse is increasingly fuelling HIV and AIDS spread especially among youth in the country and initiatives such as MAT are very important according to Chief Medical Officer (CMO), Dr. Deo Mtasiwa.

Dr. Mtasiwa who presided over the launching of the MAT pilot project at MNH's Psychiatric and Mental Health Department, said the government would like to see it rolled out countrywide in future.

While commending the American people for supporting MAT pilot project, the first of its kind in Sub Sahara Africa, the government's CMO pointed out that the TAPP's key objectives align with the country's HIV/AIDS policy and strategy.

"The government is looking for resources to ensure that Methadone treatment is rolled out countrywide," Dr. Mtasiwa stressed. According to MHN and MUHAS officials, the MAT pilot project will treat over 300 people in the commercial capital before coming to and end.

In order to cover the whole of Dar es Salaam region, experts say they will need two caravans for Temeke and a single caravan for Ilala whish is sandwiched between Kinondoni and Temeke municipalities.

As CDC specialist, Dr. Eva Matiko pointed out; MAT is an important milestone towards reversing HIV/AIDS spreading. "Today we are bringing Tanzania closer to a nation free from HIV and AIDS," Dr. Matiko said during the MAT launching ceremony.

If free from HIV and AIDS when they joined MAT pilot last week, the ten former drug users may consider themselves safe from infection by the deadly virus, at least through sharing their heroine injections. As part of TAPP, injection drug users who often reuse their syringes get JIK to clean them before reuse to avoid contamination.

"We often shared the syringes without cleaning them because of ignorance but also poverty as their prices are higher," said Kaloli who started using drugs over two decades ago.

He started with bhang or marijuana and eventually graduated to heroine and cocaine. On average, a syringe sells at between 500/- and 1,500/- in the city.

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