About 246 human rights abuses have been recorded over a three month period, against people who use drugs in parts of South Africa. According to a report by the TB/HIV Care Association has recorded around, people who use drugs often suffer human rights abuses ranging from assault and extortion to having their medication confiscated.
“We began the human rights surveillance project where we began to quantify the number of human rights abuses and the nature of human rights abuses that were being suffered,” the organisation’s advocacy and psycho-social coordinator Shaun Shelly told VOC News.
The NGO conducted several consultations with substance users and found the areas where most of them congregate, with the aim of demonstrating the feasibility of providing core packages of evidence-based HIV prevention and harm reduction services in Cape Town, Pretoria and Durban.
Through the efforts of the organisation’s ‘Step Up Project’, the report revealed drug use plays a substantial role in the growth of the South African HIV epidemic. The project, which is supported by the Western Cape Government and the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, has found the criminalisation of drug use contributes to the marginalisation and exclusion of people who use drugs. Ultimately, the results are an increase in vulnerability which often creates barriers to access health services.
On Mondays and Thursdays, teams take to the streets of Cape Town and Bellville, where the larger groups of substances addicts reside to distribute clean syringes, needles and safety packs to drug users in a bid to prevent blood-borne diseases. In addition, a consultative workshop with representatives from the drug addict community highlights key issues including human rights violations, health issues, social issues and gender based violence.
“The report revealed that 28 of the human rights violations reported were assaults, 14 were detained without cause, 8 cases of extortion and 187 cases of medical supplies confiscated or broken,” Shelly said.
The project’s professional nurse counsellor, Catherine Williams added that despite the violations, good progress has been made in engaging with communities around providing health services to people who inject drugs.
The report comes as part of the South African Drug Policy Week Conference ‘RUN2016’ which takes place in the Mother City this week. VOC (Ra’eesah Isaacs)