Mbeya — PRIME Minister Kassim Majaliwa yesterday reiterated the importance of nurturing a drug-free generation, imploring youth to avoid using drugs and instead use the opportunity to access treatment at the methadone clinics.
Speaking here after launching the Methadone Clinic and services for People Who Inject Drugs (PWIDs) at Mbeya Zonal Referral Hospital (MZRH), the premier commended Walter Reed Programme and MZRH efforts in providing the one stop clinic to reduce harm and combat HIV epidemic in the country.
He particularly applauded the referral hospital for establishing the methadone dispensing services for heroin users in the region.
"This is the fifth methadone clinic in the country; it's encouraging to see that Mbeya Zonal Hospital will now offer the services to our youth. Provision of Opioid Substitution Therapy (OST) or Medically Assisted Treatment (MAT) is one of HIV prevention strategies the government, through the ministry of health, is working on to reduce the HIV/AIDS risk factors," said Mr Majaliwa.
The newly-opened clinic is a gift to Tanzanians from Americans and is financially supported by the US Department of Defense-Walter Reed Program (WRP)/President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR), with technical assistance from the US Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
The clinic offers MAT for heroin injectors in Mbeya and the Southern Highlands regions in general, expected to serve up to 600 clients in the first 12 months of operations.
The clinic, besides dispensing methadone, will also offer HIV counseling, testing and care and treatment; TB clinic services; cervical cancer screening services, STI diagnosis and treatment, and substance abuse counseling and psychosocial support.
The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that 10 per cent of new HIV infections worldwide are attributable to injecting drug use, often of an opiate like heroin.
In Tanzania, people injecting drugs are estimated at 30,000 with a high HIV prevalence of 36 per cent, according to the National Aids Control Program (NACP) re port in 2014.
Global Health Programme Tanzania Executive Director Dr David Elkins and Foundation Medical Research International's Henry Jackson were among the dignitaries at the event.
"We are happy to be part of this new initiative that will dispense methadone to PWIDs and help reduce HIV prevalence and transmission in the Southern highland regions, of Tanzania.
We all know the challenge of maintaining safe practices among injection drug users and their vulnerability and increased HIV risk... ..MAT through the prescription of methadone to injecting drug users is an effective initiative in HIV prevention," said Dr Elkins.
He added, "By working closely with the ministry of health, HJFMRI will continue bringing HIV care and treatment services closer to the communities of Mbeya, Songwe, Rukwa, Katavi and Ruvuma regions.
We believe that through this collaboration and support from Walter Reed Program/PEPFAR, Tanzania will reach HIV suppression by 2030." The MZRH's Methadone Clinic, which the refer ral hospital refurbished has the capacity to serve 1,500 clients per day.
The hospital also plans to renovate its rehabilitation centre at Uyole township to accommodate the expected high number of clients in the region. On behalf of the US government, President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) contributed 180m/-in support of the renovations and training of clinical staff.
Opioid Substitution Therapy clinics that offer MAT for heroin injectors have grown from one clinic in Dar es Salaam in 2011 to five clinics now, with 4,276 clients.
The clinics with the number of their clients in brackets are Muhimbili National Hospital (1,530), Temeke Referral Hospital (990), Mwananyamala Referral Hospital (1,506) and Mnazi Mmoja Hospital Zanzibar (250).
"The new clinic wouldn't have been possible without the support from our partners, we thank HJFMRI, PEPFAR and of course the Ministry of Health, Community Development, Gender, Children and Elderly for their kind support," said Dr Mbwanji, Mbeya Zonal Referral Hospital Director.