Side event: Drug Policy Reform in West Africa

Francis Kofi Torkornoo, Narcotics Control Board, Ghana. Our mandate is both for drug supply reduction and demand reduction. Within these two mandates, most of the resources have been spent in the supply reduction work, with demand reduction getting between 15 and 20% of the resources. Ghana is committed to the UNGASS Outcome Document from 2016, as well as the ECOWAS Plan of Action 2016-2020, and the UNODC Regional Plan of Action from 2016. The new legislation which is currently at the Attorney General’s department before reaching Parliament had a lot of input from civil society and other stakeholders. The law was first drafted in 2012, and until 2015 hardly any action was taken. But then it reached the Select Committee on Interior, a lot of amendments were made – informed by international practices and consultations. Due to the elections, the Bill was further delayed despite being more than 50% agreed, and the new Parliament has referred the Bill again for finalisation and for final discussion. The new Bill remains committed to the criminal justice and law enforcement approach, but includes a public health approach in line with the three international conventions. This shift received wide support from the members of the Committee, and provides for four sub-committees to oversee implementation – on law enforcement, demand reduction, alternative development and harm reduction. All of these approaches fall within the one system, collaborating with other agencies. The new Bill includes greater proportionality of sentences – acknowledging distinctions between possession for personal use, and possession of large amounts, unlike the current Bill – and the rescheduling of some substances. Those arrested just for drug use, they are looking at a caution, then fines, and also treatment being available. Harm reduction is also one aspect of the Bill, and NGOs and other practitioners will undergo training on the universal treatment curriculum. We want to get it right, and ensure a minimum standard for those who will be working with clients. This work starts very soon. On alternative development, contact has been made with the Thai Government and they are helping to provide training to officers and officials on this area. This is what Ghana has been able to do as far as the law reform issues are concerned.

Barbara Goedde, Global Commission on Drug Policy. Standing in for Adeolu Ogunrombi, who is unable to be here. But Adeolu was one of the members of the West Africa Commission on Drugs, chaired by President Obasanjo from Nigeria, and includes several high-profile figures from the region. The Commission’s report has been widely used as an advocacy tool, and out of the work of the Commission grew the West Africa Drug Policy Network – chaired by Adeolu from Nigeria, and with a secretariat based in Accra, Ghana. The Network works to support evidence-based drug policy reform and to increase awareness of the issue within and outside of West Africa. Barbara then showed the Commission’s animated video.

Karim Diop, CEPIAD (Senegal). Karim started by showing a video of the needle exchange programme in Senegal. All of the activities in Senegal result from research in the country – with two major studies in 2008 and 2011 showing that people who inject drugs were an at-risk population in the country. This led to the implementation of outreach teams of social workers and peers, following training from Morocco and France. CEPIAD was then born in February 2014 as a centre for people who use drugs to provide comprehensive care, education and training. The services include a risk reduction area, and include needle exchange, HIV testing, etc. In two years, there have been more than 6,500 consultations held with 743 patients in the centre – nearly half of whom are people who inject drugs (predominantly heroin). 178 people are in the methadone programme, but the most common reason for treatment interruption is incarceration. The outreach team makes over 3,000 contacts per year, distributing thousands of needles and syringes. Mortality among people who inject drugs has fallen substantially. There remains a lack of a legal framework in favour of the harm reduction services, but there is good cooperation with the police (CEPIAD host workshops etc). Services are also now being provided outside of Dakar, and Ministerial Council has now formally requested the government to adopt a new drug plan that includes this approach. The new Action Plan has been prepared, and we hope to open new centres in 2017 and offer greater support for the integration of people who use drugs. We need to improve the legal and social environment, and to diversify the range of organisations working on these issues. Karim then showed another video, this time from the perspective of the drug users who use CEPIAD.

Sam Molokwu, Nigeria. In Nigeria, a new drugs bill has been tabled which advocates maximum punishments even for people who use drugs. With the help of the Network, with around 50 CSOs, and their advocacy to police, legal aid providers and the Nigerian Human Rights Commission – the bill has been put on hold for now. We raised awareness of what is happening around the world: the public health approach, proportionate responses, and the decriminalisation of drug use. Our voice is gradually being heard in the country, and we are hoping that the CSOs are able to remain involved in the drug policy decisions in Nigeria. There needs to be proportionate sentences that distinguish between people who use drugs and those who are trafficking, and we also do not have harm reduction services at the moment. But very soon we will come up to speed, to our brothers in Ghana and Senegal.

 Yaw Akrasi-Sarpong, Ghana. Civil society has been engaged in the drugs response in Ghana since the 1990s, there has always been a concern about drugs. But a momentum is being built-up, reflecting events around the world. The African Union is now involving CSOs, ECOWAS’s latest Action Plan invited CSOs, and the new law in Ghana was supported by the Open Society Foundation and brought international experts to engage with members of Parliament. This itself is a big achievement, and a significant reform. They had to engage, and could see the interest in the new Bill. In West Africa, there is too much emphasis on crime. The West African Commission’s report was based on thousands of interviews across the region. For the first time in Ghana’s history, a Minister of State from an in-coming government has agreed to continue the Bill and reform from the previous government – this is not about politics, it is about good policy. With NGOs supporting, the government has been encouraged to make changes and to remove the displacement between criminal justice and public health – and also call for greater accountability of what money is being spent. We also need more resources for sustainable alternative development, and we are coming up with a paper on this to reward the farmers who voluntarily leave planting drugs. Dialogue with government is crucial.

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