Drug and substance abuse a regional security threat General Philip Valerio Sibanda

Leonard Ncube, [email protected]

UNIFORMED forces in Zimbabwe and the region have described drug and substance abuse as a security threat, which also negates efforts towards an HIV and Aids and TB-free society by 2030.

Speaking during the 10th edition of the Zimbabwe Uniformed Forces Health Services conference that started yesterday here, health experts within the uniformed forces and from the Government said substance abuse has become a major social concern in most countries and has the potential to derail the attainment of Zimbabwe’s Vision 2030 whose success lies with active participation of the young generation.

“In light of the increase in substance and drug abuse by adolescents and youths, it is evident that the UN target of achieving an Aids free generation by 2030 is under threat if the nexus between substance abuse and HIV and Aids is left unbroken,” guest of honour who is Commander of the Zimbabwe Defence Forces, General Philip Valerio Sibanda, said in a speech read on his behalf by Airforce of Zimbabwe Commander, Air Marshal Elson Moyo.

HIV and Aids

He noted that the prevalence of substance abuse is on the rise in Africa with projections estimating a 40 percent increase in people who use substances between 2018 and 2030. This represents the largest increase globally, with sub-Saharan Africa projected to have the highest increase when compared to other regions of the world, said Gen Sibanda.

“The projected increases in rates of substance use in Africa is driven by among other things, demographic factors given that the continent’s population is generally younger than that of other regions,” he added. 

“Reports of substance abuse in Zimbabwe paint a worrying picture of escalating prevalence.”

Gen Sibanda said a number of measures were being implemented to fight the scourge of drug abuse. Among them is the National Dug Masterplan, which indicates that approximately 60 percent of patients admitted to mental health institutions experience substance-induced disorders. Substance abuse increased during the Covid-19 era.

As such, Gen Sibanda said the theme for the conference: “HIV/Aids and substance abuse: a threat to national security”, was influenced by the contemporary and very worrying scourge of substance abuse and its related impact on HIV and Aids.

He said drug and substance abuse was once common among homeless people but has now grown beyond social grouping. Unemployment, access to drugs, and lack of recreational facilities are among the key drivers.

“It is my hope that resolutions from this conference will help in the development of strategies and mechanisms that are directed towards curbing the emerging menace of substance abuse,” said Gen Sibanda.

“The increase in substance abuse also co-relates to the risk of HIV and Aids infection in people suffering from substance abuse.” 

Despite these worrisome developments, he said interventions are in place to address the scourge in response to both the increase in substance use and inadequate specialist drug treatment provision.

Gen Sibanda said it is incumbent upon Zimbabwean medical professionals to ride on the policy and play an active role in partnership with all stakeholders in order to come up with effective and lasting solutions to curtail the menace.

“Uniformed forces from different nations are mandated to defeat visible and invisible enemies. Zimbabwe acknowledges that the tentacles of drug and substance abuse have to be curtailed and eventually eliminated if the goal of an Aids free generation by 2030 is to be realised,” he said.

About 250 delegates are attending this year’s conference, which ends on Wednesday. These include Zimbabwe Defence Forces, Zimbabwe Republic Police, Zimbabwe Prisons and Correctional Services, Zimbabwe Parks and Wildlife Management Authority, Ministry of Health and Child Care, and National Aids Council, among others.

Postal and Telecommunications Regulatory Authority of Zimbabwe, University of Zimbabwe College of Health Science, National Blood Services Zimbabwe, City Health Department of Harare, Bulawayo and Victoria Falls complete the list.

They are joined by allied forces from Botswana, Kenya, Tanzania and Zambia. The conference has over the years grown to be a platform that feeds into policy-making and also impacts positively on the lives of the unfirmed forces, their families and general public.

Addressing the media later, director of army health service in the ZDF, Brigadier-General Godfrey Ndumiyawo Mutetse said there is a strong relationship between forces in the region to fight both the visible and invisible enemies and recommendations feed into policy-making at national and regional level.

“We have stakeholders that support us in our health endeavours in this country and beyond our borders we always have colleagues from Sadc and beyond. This conference aims to review the situation in uniformed forces in as far as drub substance abuse of concerned,” he said.

“The theme sums up what we think we should cover during the conference. We know that when we have substance abuse this has a negative bearing on members, preparedness effectiveness and affects our uniformed forces,” said Brig-Gen Mutetse.

Zimbabwe came up with the Zimbabwe National HIV and Aids Strategic Plan (2021-2025) that identifies people who use drugs as a key population within the HIV response. Director for HIV and Aids and TB Unit in the Ministry of Health Dr Owen Mugurungi said uniformed forces are critical stakeholders in the efforts to end TB and HIV by 2030.

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