Mirella Dummar-Frahi (UNODC Civil Society Team): We have been working with VNGOC for many years and happy to welcome you to this side event.
Jean-Luc Lemahieu (UNODC): Pleasure to be here. Thank you George from the Slumchild Foundation for initiating the process that brought us here. 96 organizations in the African Union. Third session of the union produced a common position. The links between drugs and crime are clear – having been stationed in many parts of the World, I’ve seen organized crime fester as a virus in areas of low- governance. The impact is devastating. When we hear what is facing Africa, and look at the demographics of the most affected people, you see these are young people. Trans-shipment of drugs is increasing, local addiction rates and problem use are increasing. We are happy to see African NGOs playing an active role in making a positive change. We thank African NGOs for their help in implementing the Ministerial Declarations as well as the UNGASS outcome document and the Common Position. We hope today further enlightens us about how we can actively cooperate.
Cisse Mariama Mohamed: I am happy to be on this panel with brothers and sisters from the CSO community. In drug control, governments need our assistance as we are key actors in education, prevention and harm reduction. Among youth CSOs, we have power groups warning our youngest and protect and support them. We should capitalize on the young people who have no fixed income but caring hearts. Proactive health education and vocational skills are essential, to mention a few areas. The challenges are face are manifold. The newly adopted EU plan 2019-2023 features 9 pillars, we are critical but encourage collaboration with governments – alternative to punishment, cross-cutting issues, data gathering requires strong CSO support. I fully support the African Civil Society Common Position and wish you all the best to improve the health and security of people in Africa. I urge our community to break silence and come together.
George Ochieng Odalo (Slum Child Foundation): It is not where you’re coming from, it’s about your vision for the World – I am grateful to the UN and the Union for making it possible to come this far. It is not about us, is about the children in the slums, the women who have no access to treatment, the young people who have no hopes for their future. Grassroot organizations have no access to the UN and we are speaking for them – we are facing a number of challenges in our work, the linkages among them is an important point in the Common Position. I assure you that we will walk the walk. The paper is available in hard copy at the back of the room. It is important to know what we are committing to. UNGASS became a part of the Plan of Action, it factors in every single person in the continent and we hope other continents will follow our footsteps.
Charity Monareng (TBHIVcare): The beauty of the Common Position is that it takes into factor the efforts governments made, alternatives to punishment and harm reduction have been mentioned in the African Plan of Action for the first time. A very alarming issue is the age of problematic drug use and the people who are criminalized, especially considering the rate of unemployment. We persistently work addressing these issues and advocate for the SDGs.
Ebtesam Ahmed (St. Johns University, IAHP): I am here to represent the voices of a specific population, patients lacking access to essential medication. Model Drug Law objective is enabling and facilitating adequate availability of medications. Pain Management needs in Africa are rising: by 2030 it is projected to be ca. 1 million HIV and 1million cancer patients. The availability 2.3 million people had untreated pain globally of the 7.2 million who die with HIV or cancer – 36% in Africa. Access to controlled substances for pain management is a human rights issue – we all have a right to health. The Lancet Commission report on Palliative Care has been published recently and it estimates the pain relieve need: 80% of people in need in low- or middle-income countries and are dying suffering. Morphine costs almost nothing but there are man-made barriers that make it really difficult to assess. Egypt, Kyrgistan and Guatemala for example have access to fentanyl but not to the gold-standard morphine (and other basic opiates!). In African countries there is almost zero availability to controlled medicines. Fundamental barriers: insufficient knowledge and training on appropriate use; opiate-phobia; inaccurate quantification of need; flawed supply chain – shortages, diversion, waste; cultural norms; regulations. The WHA A67.19 recognized the importance of palliative care. Uganda came up with a solution that meant they produced and packaged their own medicines from imported morphine powder. This is being replicated in Rwanda and Kenya, we are hoping this to be even more wide-spread. Moving forward, we need policies to ensure accessibility AND availability!
Mirella Dummar-Frahi: It’s NGOs like yours that took leadership in CND to clear up misunderstandings in the conventions. Thank you for highlighting the gaps in certain regions. We have 10 minutes for a Q&Q.
Audience: There is a resolution, L4 on improving access to medicines. We are working on one for next year that focuses on Africa.
Audience: In Africa, we have to be careful seeing the overdose crisis in the USA. If can’t force something down people’s through without preparation, there must be a middle-road approach. You have to keeping mind there is not enough skilled staff.
Ebtesam Ahmed: Just to provide some clarification, it’s not a prescription opioid crisis. I agree with the education aspect but right now opioid-phobia is not a solution, there has to be a balance.
Audience: UN economic and social culture, there is a special mention of opioids as essential medicine for pain. There is a last slide you have to put on the screen, there is a criminal amount of poppy being burned in Afghanistan.
Audience: Many times, in Africa we think one size fits all. Our intention should be to protect the children and keep prevalence as low as possible. There are situations where we need to move but umbrella-type interventions are a problem.
Audience: How can CSOs sign up to the Common Position? When was the Action Plan circulated? We need to stop criminalizing the discussion on drugs. Harm reduction is specialized interventions, it is not a one size fits all, it is not a western approach – discussing these, rejecting proposals will not help!
George Ochieng Odalo: firstname.lastname@example.org
Charity Monareng: I think I mentioned that we need African solution to African problems. We are not talking about a western approach; it is a human approach.
Audience: The African Union acknowledges the problem of drug use in Africa. Our second pillar in the plan of action is access so we are trying to accelerate the response to this issue.
Audience: Just a short word about Cannabis – it is a medicine. We and the WHO has acknowledges the medicinal use while we still find millions of people incarcerated for use. When we talk about essential medicines, we see the challenges around opioid use but we also need to keep an eye on Cannabis. It is not a humane approach to punish people who use cannabis. We need a Common Position regarding Cannabis in Africa.
Audience: This plan of action is great. What measures are put in place by EU to make sure the action plan is implemented?
Audience: Thank you for bringing up the importance of Cannabis which links to the decriminalization debate. I don’t understand the concept of putting someone in jail for usage of cannabis or opiates. People who use drugs should not be punished for consuming.
Cisse Mariama Mohamed: We have an implementation matrix that will be available on the website.
George Ochieng Odalo: Cannabis Common Position might be an idea; we will work on that. Thank you for coming, the African Union will stay a bit longer to engage in a dialogue with us.