Uganda’s premier clinic for treating and rehabilitating injection drug users has opened at Butabika Mental National Referral hospital.
The clinic, which will run in pilot mode for a year before rolling out services throughout the 13 regional referral facilities is targeting to treat 300 clients whose outcomes will determine whether the treatment that involves enrolling clients on weaker opioids to beat their addiction to various drugs will be extended to those in need countrywide.
Dr. Byama Mutamba, a consultant psychiatrist who heads the alcohol and drug addiction unit where the new MAT clinic falls, says clients will be receiving a safer and similar drug to what they are addicted to.
The clinic has so far registered 70 clients who have been enrolled on methadone and buprenorphine. Majority of the clients are addicted to cocaine and heroin while a few others are addicted to pain killers such as pethidine.
Mutamba says the clients were referred to them by Uganda Harm Reduction Network (UHRN), a local NGO where they had been enrolled for counselling and social support.
Twaibu Wamala, the Executive Director of UHRN says the 70 were zeroed through an assessment which found them to be highest in need of care.
He says hundreds of people are grappling with injection drug addiction in the community even as the problem, which has been declared an epidemic in the west, isn’t given the attention it deserves.
A recent study involving 500 drug users conducted in Kampala and Mbale districts found that 17 percent of the injection drug users tested positive for HIV and another 20 percent tested positive for Hepatitis B.
Wamala says the drug users have testified sharing the same injections to inject the drugs since many of them have the shots in groups since they are costly.
During UHRN community outreaches in Makindye and Kisenyi, Wamala said, they realized people contribute money to afford a shot of heroin, which goes for an average of Shs 50, 000.
Ministry of Health estimates show that between 11,000 and 20,000 people inject drugs in Uganda and the majority live in urban centers.
The central and eastern regions have the highest numbers. At Butabika hospital, the majority of users are male aged between 18 and 30 years.
Dr. David Basangwa, the hospital’s former executive director says that the growth of the problem of injection drug use was noticed in the early 1990s but efforts to contain it have always been constrained by funds.
The new clinic, he says, is a dream come true that he had pushed for until early this year when he retired.
It has been established by the help of donors including the American Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the Infectious Diseases Institute (IDI) and their HIV/AIDS Programme.
Basangwa is worried that when these finally pull out, sustaining the clinic will be difficult without a dedicated budget to run it by the government.