Staff Blog

TB HIV Care Voices: The highs and lows of a ‘drug policy’ person

Staff blog. Submitted by: Shaun Shelly (PWUD Projects, Policy, Advocacy and Human Rights Manager)

Life as a ‘drug policy’ person is, perhaps not surprisingly, full of highs and lows. Here are some examples from the last few weeks:

HIGH: The City of Tshwane became the first city in South Africa to fund the implementation of harm reduction services, including needle and syringe services and opioid substitution therapy.

LOW: The City of eThekwini became the first city to stop TB HIV Care from distributing sterile injecting equipment to people who inject drugs.

HIGH: The National Department of Health, UNAIDS and the South African National AIDS Council confirmed their support for the Step Up Project, and asked that the services be reopened.

LOW: The eThekwini Municipality said “No”. The saga continues…. For more about our essential HIV prevention services for people who inject drugs, click here.

HIGH: The University of Essex invited me to participate in an author’s workshop. The book: The War on Drugs and the Global Colour Line, has a chapter written by me, (Drug policy in South Africa: A perpetuation of Apartheid?) which sounds exciting, but…

LOW: The war on drugs has become a politically expedient way for politicians to escape accountability. This is a worldwide pattern and the authors shared how the war on drugs justifies extrajudicial killings in the Philippines, Brazil, China and other countries.

HIGH: I headed to London for a series of meetings with various funders and partners. For once, I was ahead of schedule and had managed to book a very nice Air BnB.

LOW: When I arrived, needing a shower before running to my meetings, I arrived at the building I was staying at and saw this:

[HIGH] There is a hotel next door where I can get a room, but [LOW] at R6000 a night! [HIGH] The hotel let me shower and leave my luggage there free of charge. Off to my meetings…

The rest of the week had many HIGHS. I was able to meet with the International Network of People Who Use Drugs, the International Drug Policy Consortium, EQUAL and Harm Reduction International.

The only LOW was a HIGH I did not expect in London – the temperature – above 35 degrees. I nearly made the headlines: South African Dies of Heatstroke…IN LONDON!

The biggest HIGH was attending the launch of Neil Wood’s new book Drug Wars. Neil is a former undercover police officer who has written about the harm caused by the war on drugs in his bestseller Good Cop, Bad War. Neil spoke at last year’s SA Drug Policy Week.

[MASSIVE HIGH] Neil thanked me personally for being an inspiration in the acknowledgements section of the book.

[LOW] He spelt my name wrong!

If you don’t want a life like a rollercoaster, full of highs and lows, stay away from drugs and drug policy.

TB HIV Care Voices: Honing the mobilisation skills of our front-line community workers

Staff blog. Submitted by: John Mutsambi (PrEP Coordinator)

Community peer mobilisers and educators are the most important communication tool for health promotion and uptake of the different HIV prevention options that science has availed.

To hone the skills of these front-line health workers, who are working with adolescent girls and young women (AGYW) in uMgungundlovu (KZN), an intensive workshop on community mobilisation for HIV prevention was conducted from 7-8 May, 2018.

The forum brought together 42 participants, including 27 THC HIV Prevention Programme staff and 15 Girls Clubs mentors from Community Media Trust.

The training started with an overview of the HIV epidemic in South Africa and narrowed the focus to AGYW, highlighting the burden they carry as well as the combination HIV prevention options available to them –  which will soon include PrEP.

Thoughtful engagement and discussions on the importance of community mobilisation, the qualities of a good community mobiliser, their roles and responsibilities and how to plan effectively for community mobilisation ensued. During the workshop, a road map detailing the process from community mobilisation all the way through to the provision of clinical and care services was created. The training ended with a reflection on Idowu Koyenikan’s quotation which says, “There is immense power when a group of people with similar interests get together to work toward the same goals”.

TB HIV Care Voices: Reflecting back on our VMMC programme in OR Tambo

Staff blog. Submitted by Sithembiso Mabasa (Community Liaison Officer)

TB HIV Care (THC) started a VMMC programme in OR Tambo District in the Eastern Cape in 2012. Back then it was still taboo to even speak about medical male circumcision (MMC). The first time we kick-started the programme in Lusikisiki we (Zolani Barnes, Kwezi Shumi and Sithembiso Mabasa) were confronted by a group of traditional leaders who were so cross about the fact that we were introducing MMC. Threats were made then and even later THC staff members were often called names and verbally abused.

Through sheer resilience and determination THC stopped at nothing to bring this service to the individuals and communities of OR Tambo. Community mobilisation and demand creation activities were conducted in all corners of society (door-to-door campaigns, schools, community meetings and functions, churches, traditional imbizos, workplaces, national & provincial functions, bilaterals, taxi ranks, community radio stations, local newspapers, distribution of flyers, pamphlets, sport events etc). Excellent work has been done by our clinical team over the years, ensuring quality service (despite poor and often challenging conditions) and lives have been improved and saved.

Just this week we received numerous invitations from the Department of Education and Walter Sisulu University to present VMMC. Very soon THC will no longer provide VMMC in this district. Come the 30th June we will hand the baton over to Right to Care. But credit must be given to our entire team in OR Tambo for such gallant work – and being a part of history in the making.

For Right To Care, it’s their time to take the baton and run with it. I hope when the THC Team exit at the end of June 2018 they will say,”Wow we have made it”.