Pubdate: Sun, 29 Nov 2009
Source: Sunday Nation (Kenya)
Copyright: 2009 Nation Newspapers
Authors: Daniel Wesangula, Mwakera Mwajefa and Galgalo Bocha


It took kicks, blows and a cocked AK-47 to raise a doped-up Abdallah
Hassan Abdalla from a stupor and, incidentally, save his life. The
scene was Mombasa's Mackinon Market. The lead actor in the story of
his life was himself; the supporting cast was composed of an angry mob
and regular policemen.

What followed next was a beating that opened his eyes to the dangers
of heroin use. He could finally break free from a 12-year addiction
that revolved around three things: heroin, syringes and himself. He
had tried to escape with some money he had snatched from a woman.

Because they don't have enough money to sustain their habits,
thousands of heroin addicts on Mombasa's sunny streets are entering a
fourth, even darker dimension: sharing blood. The Sunday Nation has
established that desperation has driven heroin users in the coastal
city and its environs to put their lives at even greater risk through
injecting themselves with other addicts' blood to get high.

"They say the real thing has become expensive, so they hold
mini-harambees (fundraisers) and buy a sachet of heroin. One person
injects himself while the others harvest his blood and inject
themselves," said Mr Abdallah, who has been working as an outreach
worker since 2005.

During his decade-long addiction, he said, he never saw such an
extreme practice, and it has alarmed outreach workers and former drug
users. "It is like a scene straight from a vampire movie. Such a
thought should not even cross your mind," he said. But the insanity of
addition is the driving force behind users getting high by any means,
the 38-year-old former addict said.

"This is the worst stage of a heroin user. They have hit rock bottom,
and the way out of addiction is not in their sights. They live from
fix to fix." He said he is one of the lucky ones who have managed to
escape the throes of addiction.

"There's no telling what I would be suffering from had I injected
myself with someone else's blood," he said. In tough economic times
when everyone is cutting back, heroin addicts also have to cut
corners, but how they do this results in far more serious effects than
skipping lunch or foregoing that bottle of beer.

According to the National Campaign Against Drug Abuse (Nacada), heroin
is the second-most abused drug in the country after bhang. Nacada says
the prevalence of HIV/Aids among injecting drug users is between 68
and 88 per cent, resulting mainly from the sharing of needles. And if
the sharing of blood continues, these numbers are likely to go even

Community health workers argue that another option would be to
introduce a needle exchange programme for the addicts. The United
Nations Office on Drugs and Crime proposes a needle exchange programme
that will require users to return used syringes in exchange for new
sterile ones.

"Although this programme has been adopted in many European countries,
Kenya has been adamant claiming it will encourage drug use in the
country," Mr Abdallah said. Reports indicate that a heroin dealer in
Kenya can make up to Sh20,000 per day with drug barons making 10 times
more. Not everyone is as lucky as Mr Abdallah. Most heroin addicts
don't live long enough to tell their tales.
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