SANPUD joins the rest of the nation as we try and flatten the curve of a pandemic that could infect up to 70% of South Africans, leading to thousands of deaths. Due to the far-reaching economic impact and depletion of our health services, many more could die after the Corona virus disease 2019 (COVID-19) has passed. The virus has shown the world how fragile we humans are, and highlighted how some people are far more vulnerable than others. Marginalised, disenfranchised, stigmatised, and ‘othered’ communities will suffer disproportionally. We live in an inequitable world, and in a country that has kept people socially separated through the constructs of race, economics, education and spacial design. For people who use drugs (and sex workers), there is the added layer of criminalisation that continues to expose us to brutality at the hands of the law enforcement, correctional services and criminal gangs.
COVID-19 is already exposing the shortfalls in services for people who use drugs. People dependent on heroin (Whoonga, Unga, Nyaope) are suffering withdrawals that are painful, debilitating, and preventable. The exorbitant price of methadone and other medicines used to help resolve dependent use, the reluctance to support harm reduction services and continued criminalisation have been barriers to expanding services. We can only hope that the terrible circumstances we find ourselves in can expose the failures of the past and help move people to a place of compassion. We further note that while the restriction of movement and the harsh enforcement of the shutdown is necessary at this time, we must ensure that COVID-19 does not signal the death of our constitutional rights.
We salute the people, including our staff, friends, colleagues and people who use drugs, who are putting their lives on the line to help us navigate and survive the pandemic. We are asking our communities to remain physically distanced and socially engaged. In the words of Viktor Frankl:
...everything can be taken from a [person] but one thing: the last of the human freedoms – to choose one's attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one's own way.
Chair of the Independent Board