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Covid-19 and drug addiction

Recovering drug addicts in Kenya find treatment difficult with Covid-19

Susan Wamboi, a recovering drug addict in Mombasa, Kenya
Susan Wamboi, a recovering drug addict in Mombasa, Kenya © Joseph Jira
Text by: Joseph Jira
3 min

Covid-19 regulations in Kenya pose additional challenges to recovering drug addicts along the coastal areas, who say they are finding it difficult to access their methadone recovery programs due to an inter-county lockdown and dusk to dawn curfew.

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Mombasa County, which borders Kwale and Kilifi counties, is currently under inter-county lockdown after recording the highest numbers of coronavirus infections.

The government imposed travel restrictions within coastal counties to curb the spread with only essential service providers are allowed to move around.

This has proven to be problematic for Susan Wamboi, 38, a former prostitute and petty criminal who has been using drugs for 15 years.

The mother of two led a life of crime in order to support her habit and her children, but she is currently enrolled in a recovery program to get her herself back on track.

“Coronavirus has changed everything,” says Wamboi. “Some of us are on a methadone program but we live or work in different counties; accessing those methadone centers has been a challenge,” she adds.

A former drug addict, Makame Mbwana, 36, from Mombasa, used to inject heroin for 15 years.

He said he was jailed several times for abusing drugs and was considered a ‘notorious’ criminal by the authorities.

Most drug addicts want to stop abusing drugs, says Mbwana, but life remains uncertain for many after they finish their course of methadone at the harm reduction program.

 He says that former drug addicts are still perceived as bad people, even after they are accepted back into the community.

Mbwana now works as a peer counselor, handing out clean needles so they avoid sharing and spreading disease.

 “I am also sensitizing other drug addicts on effects of drug abuse,” says Mbwana.

The father of three says it he has not been able to secure permanent employment as people still consider him a criminal. Travelling to other counties to look for work is very difficult due to the inter-county lockdown.

According to a survey conducted by the Reachout Center Trust, a rehabilitation center based in Mombasa, there are more than 100,000 drug users in the six counties of coast region.

Mombasa county alone has more than 10,000 drug users, in part because the port has become a major drug trafficking hub for heroin.

There has been a surge in the numbers of teens aged 15 to 18 abusing drugs in the region says Taib Abdulrahman, the executive director of Reachout Center Trust, adding that many are students who are at home due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

“We can only provide methadone services to 5,000 drug users at the moment-- we can’t accommodate all in one place as Covid-19 guidelines prohibits social gatherings,” he says.

Doctor Abdi Noor, head of the anti-drug therapy department at Mewa hospital in Mombasa, says that most young people abusing drugs in the Mombasa region are unemployed, while others are students who are influenced by their peers.

Noor says most of these young people abusing drugs are stigmatized by the society as they are perceived to be criminals.

“Currently we have over 1,500 recovering addicts on the methadone program… these people are discriminated and stigmatized,” says Abdhi.

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