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Tanzania Starts Needle Giveaway

Addiction and HIV are growing problems in the East African nation, but harm reduction has its opponents.

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Tanzania hopes to stop the spread of HIV.
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By Chrisanne Grise

09/17/12

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Next month, the government of Tanzania will begin issuing medical injection equipment such as hypodermic syringes, needles and swabs to narcotic drug abusers, in a major effort to prevent the spread of HIV. The "Needle, Syringe Programme" (NSP) will also educate addicts on safe injections and the dangers of needle-sharing. It's an approach that has plenty of opponents: "Surely, this cannot be the solution to the problem," says Fabian Theopil, the secretary general of Sober Tanzania, an organization that combats alcohol and drug abuse. "The plan will only succeed in promoting addiction among our youths." Sober Tanzania is completely against the program, and is asking the government to look for a better solution. The situation is urgent—a recent survey found that 51% of the estimated 25,000 people injecting drugs in Tanzania are HIV positive. 

Other approaches are available: the Muhimbili National Hospital began providing methadone treatment back in 2007, and now sees about 490 patients. According to Dr. Frank Masao, head of the hospital's psychiatry department, the biggest challenge is just getting addicts to come in daily to receive their methadone, due to transportation and personal issues. "They have a specific kind of life where they only think of getting the drug and nothing else," he says. "After the therapy we try to rehabilitate them often giving them something to do thereafter. Some of them engage in gardening at the clinic." Despite these difficulties, the project is considered a success—so much so that the government decided to open more methadone clinics at other hospitals. Says Dr. Hussein Mwinyi, the Minister for Health and Social Welfare: "This effort is tailored to bring the methadone treatment closer to patients so they can easily access it without having to travel from afar."

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