People who use drugs and advocates call for policy reforms

People who use drugs (PWUDs) and advocates have called for the review of the Malawi National Drug Policy, arguing the existing laws have failed to identify and tackle factors that fuel the problem in Malawi.

Representatives of the grouping, Sipho Gondwe, a former drug user and Christina Mmphawi, a sex worker, observed that the battle against drug and substance abuse among the youths has failed largely due to the policy.

Sipho Gondwe giving an interview to the media–Photo by Watipaso Mzungu

The duo described the current legal framework as repressive and punitive instead of striving to deliver social justice and sustainable public health.

Mmphawi and Gondwe made the sentiments during an interface with journalists in Lilongwe on Tuesday.

Apparently, PWUDs  have formed Drug Policy and Harm Reduction Platform (DPHRP) to champion a debate on drug policy reforms and the need for creation of programmes to promote harm reduction instead of punishment of the offenders. This is with support from the Open Society Initiative ( OSI) through Aids and Rights Alliance for Southern Africa, (ARASA).

During the interface meeting with journalists, Gondwe said he started using drugs whilst in secondary school from where he became so addicted that he could not sleep without inhaling something.

“For that, I became a regular visitor to police cells. However, what I observed was that those arrests didn’t help in reforming me, but worsening my situation because once I got to Maula Prison, I would smoke even harder stuff there,” he said.

In her remarks, Mmphawi said drugs and substances have negatively affected under-served populations such as young men and women who are largely unemployed, with no access to credit for entrepreneurial activities.

DPHRP project coordinator Geoffrey Manasseh said the platform will mobilize people who use drugs and other advocates to enhance advocacy, lobbying and building awareness on the harms of the current drug laws.

Manasseh further stated that they will push for drug policy reforms and initiate harm reduction issues with the active participation and lead of people who use drugs, including building their capacity towards policy reforms.

“These interventions will create room for investments in effective and cost-effective harm reduction responses for the people who use drugs, which include women, sex workers, prisoners and former convicts. This is in view of the fact that the current drug control approach focuses on punitive criminal justice responses that seem not to solve the problem,” he said.

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