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Exit strategy from drug, substance abuse

A high number of drug users worldwide continue to lose their lives prematurely, with an estimated 187,100 drug-related deaths in 2013,” reads the 2015 World Drug Report of the United Nations on Drugs and Crime (UNODC).

The report also quotes UNODC Executive Director Yury Fedotov as saying only one out of six addicted drug users has access to treatment.

This simply shows some worrying trend of addictions worldwide and Malawi is not an exception as the cases are also prevalent and the figures are rising alarmingly.

For instance, a December 2013 revised summary report on Fighting Poverty through Alcohol Misuse Prevention in Malawi exposes that consumption per individual is higher if compared with other countries in the Southern African Development Community region. However, cumulatively, the country takes less than South Africa and Zambia, although Malawi takes more than Zimbabwe and Mozambique.

“The average consumption of alcohol in Malawi is about eight litres of pure alcohol while in South Africa and Zambia is over eight litres and other countries like Namimbia, Zimbabwe and Swaziland is below seven litres,” reads the report in part.

The research further says men on average take five or more litres of pure alcohol (100 percent) every 96 days in a year with the economic age group of males between 25 and 40 drinking more.

According to the research, most consumed alcohol is masese (opaque beer), followed by kachasu and then clear beer and wine with alcohol content of below 22 percent.

Worried with the trend plus other substance addictions, a group called Malawi Addiction Help (Mah) was established in the country.

“Addiction is a disease and some even go as far as saying it is cancer. But just as every other disease, there is a way that it can be cured, if not at least controlled, says David Mulipa, Coordinator of the group.

Mah has its base in Blantyre, with an outreach office in the Northern Region, while earmarking the Central Region for the same soon.

“This is a grouping or forum that supports people who want to stop substance abuse like alcohol, drugs and also physical addictions, namely sex, gambling, smoking and nicotine. We are basically helped by two qualified doctors and lecturers at the College of Medicine in the name of Dr Chioza Bandawe and Dr Stephano Holze,” Mulipa says.

According to Mulipa, they are looking at two elements, the biggest one being alcohol addiction problem and substance abuse of chamba, cocaine and prescription drugs, and sex and gambling.

“You know the organisation is new but programme have been ongoing, especially on the alcohol part. And it is through discussions we had basically with Dr Bandawe that we established the formal Alcohol Addiction (AA) setting and also something that has to do with other drugs addiction.

“Addiction is a disease of the mind and the body is adapted to taking substances as you depend on it. So we deal with one rehabilitation centre called Venegas at St John of God Hospital in Mzuzu. Those referred to Mzuzu undergo a three—week medical de-toxicaton, and when they come back, they are referred back to us and we take it from there to support them and assimilate them into society,” he says.

Bandawe confirms working with the group to help them numb alcohol drinking habits.

The psychologist says although there have not been an extensive epidemiological study that has been conducted, he believes the country has the problem because people come to their clinics with problems such as there struggling with soft drug and alcohol addiction.

“I have worked with Alcoholic Anonymous (AA) where we are trying to help people come together and encourage one another because studies have shown that when people suffering from common addiction come together, they follow certain steps that are more effective because they are able to encourage one another.

“So what we intend to do and what is happening is that will be people coming together in groups, hearing each other stories, encourage each other and basically being accountable to each other that ok I did this just for today, I am not going to take another drink, alcohol,” Bandawe says.

The routine for substance abuse victims on their way to addition recovery is to go for counselling before rehabilitation, and Mah coordinator justifies why they settled for Mzuzu rehabilitation centre.

“They [Venegas centre] have the medical expertise to deal with more serious cases of addiction, not only alcohol but we have got Indian hemp, prescription drugs and cocaine,” he says.

Currently, the group is offering support to people on a number of forums.

“We have discovered in the past months that a lot of people are comfortable dealing with us through WhatsApp and we also have a forum on Facebook. In addition, in Blantyre, the AA members meet every Sundays,” he says.

The grouping has no financial support with members including the doctor offering their services for free.

However, Mulipa says discussions are underway with some organisations that are willing to help.

“When we started this awareness campaign, we realised that more people were trying to contact us. So once we have toll free lines which we are about to be offered by one telecommunications company, then we expect more people to get in touch with us from all corners of the country because we know some have no access to internet to get us through WhatsApp or Facebook,” Mulipa says.

Mulipa says they exercise caution when assisting victims.

“You have to be overt in that people should know that there is need for help, yes, but you have also to be covert that people know that once they get to you, their problems remain private,” he says.

UNODC says addressing the world drug problem is essential in promoting healthy, peaceful and inclusive societies as part of overall efforts to realise the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.

“Our central concern is the health and welfare of people. This must be the foundation for efforts aimed at prevention and treatment. We have resolved to develop a compassionate, humane and effective global response to the world drug problem that reflects our collective interests,” Fedotov says in his keynote speech delivered in New York on February 8 2016.

Perhaps, this is why Mulipa, who has been a drunkard but stopped a year ago following medical aid of Bandawe, says addiction is curable.

“The essence of it is to provide support, help people and obviously encourage them to remain sober and stay clean.

I can tell you that some people that we started working with sometime back are now doing well with some promoted at work while marriages of others have been saved,” he says.

But is the country doing enough to address addiction problem?

“No, we aren’t… I think the first thing is that we need to admit we have a problem. We need to talk more widely about it and be part of the discussion of community that we have this problem and what can we do because it is affecting the family, their career and certainly we need to create more awareness campaigns. So we need to do more at policy level and one of the things that we really need to do is to train more addiction counsellors but also to get more people who are specilised in addiction equipped and trained so that at least we are able to address these problems more effectively,” Bandawe says.

In a study conducted by World Health Organisation under the department of non-communicable diseases in 2013, estimates indicate that 20 percent of the Malawi population comprises drunkards.

This is not soothing as some have fallen into the trap of drug and substance abuse unknowingly and do not know the way out, perhaps Mah has the exit.

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