The Star (Nairobi)

Kenya: Leaders Opposed to Free Syringes Plan Cautioned

POLITICIANS and religious leaders opposed to government's plan to distribute free syringes and needles should seek information first before taking sides.

Coast Public Health and Sanitation director Anisa Omar said it is unfair for some leaders to oppose a programme they do not understand. The plan, which targets more than 50,000 injection drug users in the country and unveiled at a workshop in Mombasa last month, has met stiff resistance from some leaders. It is set to be piloted in Mombasa.

Speaking in Mombasa yesterday, Anisa said the programme is aimed at addressing concerns raised over the high rate of HIV and other blood-borne infections among injection drug users. She said policy makers and experts have researched on the programme, adding that there is evidence of its success in other countries including Tanzania. "One out of three drug users are HIV positive and the community doesn't understand this. We, as public health plan to prevent infections. These people share contaminated needles and syringes which put them at risk. We want to stop new infections in the fight against HIV/Aids," said Anisa.

She said distribution of needless will curb the infection rate of HIV and other diseases such as hepatitis among injection drug users. The director said those opposed to the programme are ill-informed, adding that they need to understand the project's objectives and advantages. "People should get to understand the whole thing. I urge all those against the plan to seek information. Let them come to us and we will educate them on the plan. Information is knowledge and knowledge is power. We are trying to save our youths," said Anisa.

She said the project is comprehensive and involves both treatment and rehabilitation of the affected group and not a mere distribution of syringes and needles. The programme targets over 26,000 youth in Mombasa and 20,000 in Nairobi who inject drugs, which she said contributes to 4 per cent of new HIV infections nationally and 17 per cent at the Coast annually. Anisa said the project also involves income generating activities for sustainable livelihood of those who will complete the rehabilitation programme.

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