Free medicare for 10,000 addicts at the coast

January 12, 2011 12:00 am

, NAIROBI, Kenya, Jan 12 – Ten thousand drug addicts at the Coast Province will for the next three months get free medical treatment in public health facilities in the region, the government said on Wednesday.

While addressing journalists, Mental Health Director David Kiima said the government would also upgrade the capacities of the Coast Provincial General Hospital and the Mathare Mental hospital in order to facilitate drug dependency treatment.

He explained that the Coast Provincial General Hospital would be elevated to a national hospital while the Mathare Mental hospital would get both inpatient and outpatient facilities.

"Our national treatment and rehabilitation unit (that is Mathare hospital) only has a bed capacity of 60 and this is not enough especially considering that it only caters for inpatient clients," he explained.

According to government reports, up to 20 addicts, suffering withdrawal symptoms, have been trooping to public hospitals at the coast each day, since December 31.

HIV/AIDS expert with the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, Reychad Abdool, added that an additional 700 Kenyans would be trained on handling drug dependency treatment in the next eight months.

Kenya Psychiatric Association Secretary Marx Okonji, who was also present, urged the government to address the underlying factors leading to drug abuse in order to effectively kick out the habit.

"The supply seems to have gone down but I must say that issues of addiction are like an animal that hides their head before springing a surprise on you. So we should not think that the issue is just limited to the coast; it is a countrywide problem," said Dr Okonji.

He also proposed that the Narcotics Psychotropic Substances Act be fully implemented.

The Act, which was first adopted in 1994, states that if the suppliers of drugs are caught, then at the time that they are caught, their properties will be seized as forfeiture.

The money accumulated through the penalty will go towards the construction of rehabilitation centres together with the maintenance and management of the addicts\’ treatment. 

"And we are pleading that the law be followed to the letter while dealing with drug barons such that if they are found guilty, then all their property should be seized and forfeited to put up rehabilitation centres in all counties in the country," he said.

In addition, Dr Kiima explained that addicts who had so far succumbed to death did not lose their lives because of the withdrawal symptoms. He instead blamed their death on pre-existing medical conditions.

"Drug dependency rarely kills; but you find that most addicts have conditions such as hypoglycemia and high blood pressure mostly developed while abusing drugs. And such conditions complicate their treatment," he explained.

Data on the number of those who had so far succumbed was not available. 

Dr Kiima also asked non governmental bodies -local and international- to liaise with government institutions in the war against drug and substance abuse. 

"We should all combine our efforts so that our interventions are better coordinated. And I also want to remind Kenyans that the government is doing all it can to help improve the situation," he said.

He also appealed to the families of those addicted to provide the necessary psycho-social support in order to hasten their healing process.

"The individuals should first of all help themselves by staying away from drugs and then their families should be responsible enough to make sure that they get the necessary intervention," he said.

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