by Phumlani Malinga
Media can be a very effective way of turning the tide in addressing issues that affect people who use drugs. The recent media coverage which highlighted the fears about the presence of inappropriately discarded needles in certain areas was regional on print and radio. The use of focused media channels means the message can reach those affected directly and hopefully those in the same communities who may be interested and have different ideas.
The good relationships SANPUD has with the regional media was best shown in their willingness to include the organisation in the panel discussions. The empathy that the presenters have for people who use drugs came through in the information they provided to their listeners during the interviews, and this kind of advocacy is crucial in changing the minds of listeners.
Recently a few residents in and around Cape Town have noticed and been complaining about the increased presence of inappropriately discarded needles in their areas. This has to be seen in the context of the rise in the number of street based people which is primarily a social problem with multiple causes which include the recent initiative to parole people, people being displaced by the mitigating measures for the spread of covid-19, lack of economic opportunity as well as mental health issues.
Lester Kiewit, the host of Midday Report with Lester Kiewit on CapeTalk introduced the conversation on discarded needles by reiterating that “street based people who use drugs are part of the communities where they choose to live and dealing with them has to move away from criminalising to a more humane approach of provision of harm reduction services which include the distribution of needles to curb the spread of blood borne diseases. Jonathan Hobday Chairman at Mowbray Community Police Forum has observed an increase in the NGOs, churches and city improvement districts are doing their best to assist street based people who use drugs in and around the city.
In an interview with Midday Report with Lester Kiewit on CapeTalk, Hobday accepted that the numbers of people in the streets have doubled which has led to those in this group who use drugs being more visible. His suggestion is that the city has to take a lead in providing a coordinated effort to deal with this problem which is currently lacking “there is no seemingly cohesive strategy involving national agencies, provincial agencies, people like the police, like the city improvement districts and all the NGOs.”
The National Drug Master Plan does provide for a framework for the provision of services to people who inject drugs that champions harm reduction. The delivery of these services is complicated by the fact that “the use of drugs is an emotive issue” as pointed out by Nicky Essen from Gardens Watch in a panel interview with SmileFM. She mentioned that her organisation has been working at dealing with the issue through communication, “we have been in touch with TB HIV Care, we feel that they are doing a great job in our area. When we find needles strewn around they are very quick to respond to try and assist. The channels of communication are open”. The communication with Gardens Watch has been cordial and effective which has not been the same with other areas, Shaun Shelly the Chairman of the Board of SANPUD on the same panel acknowledged.
Shelly accepted that the presence of inappropriately discarded needles is a health risk and gave more information about the measures that SANPUD and TB HIV Care have put in place to ensure proper and frequent collection of these needles in an interview with Midday Report with Lester Kiewit on CapeTalk: “The organisations that provide the needles and syringes also provide clean-ups. TB HIV Care has them for five days a week at the moment and SANPUD are attempting to engage with people who do leave drug paraphernalia lying around, to make sure they collect it”.