The director of social affairs of the African Union Commission (AUC), Ambassador Olawale Maiyegun, presided over the opening ceremony of the technical consultation on drug demand reduction, which kicked off on Wednesday in Cape Town.
Maiyegun told representatives of partner organisations in the area of drug control, and epidemiology experts from African Union (AU) member states, that there was a need for balanced and integrated responses towards drug control.
He said the issue of drug control went beyond just being a security problem, but was also a public health issue.
Recalling this year’s AU theme on human rights, with a particular focus on the rights of women, Maiyegun said this theme tied in with the objective of combating drug use while respecting the rights to access of approved and controlled drugs.
He further emphasised the importance of involving youth at national, regional and continental levels given that, according to statistics, they are the largest population to be affected by the different types of drug abuse.
“The focus of the consultation is to review where we are at with improving access to comprehensive, evidence-informed, ethical and human rights based drug use prevention, dependence, treatment and aftercare service, as well as to plan for the development of systematic, structured and sustainable drug use based on epidemiology systems,” said Maiyegun.
The consultation comes halfway into implementation of the decisions of the First Specialised Technical Committee on Health, Population and Drug Control (STC-HPDC-1) that took place in April 2015.
At the session, AU member states recommitted to scaling up advocacy for balanced and integrated responses towards drug control that involved appropriate linkages between drugs, health and crime while confronting political and governance weaknesses.
Maiyegun thanked the US government for the support provided by the US Department of State’s Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs (INL) to help the AUC in implementing the project.
He also thanked other partners, including the World Health Organisation.
Dr Nicolas C Clark, medical officer with the department of mental health and substance abuse in Geneva, lauded the initiative of the AUC to organise this important meeting.
Clark said high rates of cannabis use, and associated severe mental illness, were also posing serious challenges to mental health institutions and there had been no preparation for this in African countries.
Anja Busse, the representative of the UN Office on Drug Control (UNODC), recalled her organisation’s long-standing relationship with the AUC and promised to strengthen drug data collection systems to help enhance drug treatment and control.
Bill McGlynn, Senior Advisor, US Department of State’s Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs (INL), reiterated the commitment to assist the AUC and African countries in their efforts to strengthen research and data collection capacity for drug use.
This, he said would contribute to evidence- based treatment services, which to a large extent was also predicated on sufficient and reliable information on drug use patterns and trends.
Organised by the AU Drug Control Programme Management Unit in the Department of Social Affairs of the AUC, the objective of the consultation meeting was to plan for the establishment of national epidemiology networks in Africa.
It also wants to gather baseline information by assessing existing data systems, data requirements, data sources, current practices and gaps with a view to design standard data collection tools for drug use in the continent.
The consultation is expected to prepare groundwork for final reporting on the implementation of the AU Plan of Action on Drug Control (2013-2017) at the Second African Union Specialised Technical Committee Meeting on Health, Population and Drug Control (STC-HPDC) scheduled for March 2017.
The meeting ends on Friday with recommendations aimed at providing a solid framework to address both drug supply and drug demand reduction in corresponding measures in Africa.
– African News Agency (ANA)