Step Up Project opens new centre for people who use drugs in Cape Town city centre

The Western Cape MEC for Health, Prof Nomafrench Mbombo, opened a drop-in centre for people who inject drugs in central Cape Town on Wednesday, the 4th December 2019. The centre, run by NGO TB HIV Care’s Step Up Project, is part of a recent approach to people who use drugs that seeks to reduce the harms associated with disordered substance use instead of demanding abstinence. The Step Up Project has already provided support to over 900 people in the greater Cape Metro.

People who inject drugs are at particular risk for blood-borne infections such as HIV and hepatitis B and C, as well as facing the dangers that come with social marginalisation as a result of the criminalisation of drug use. The Step Up Project aims to reduce these risks by providing a package of wellness services which includes sterile injecting equipment, opioid substitution therapy, HIV testing and screening, and psychosocial services.

The drop-in centre itself is not new. A similar space has been operating in Woodstock for the past two years. However the new location in central Cape Town brings the services closer to the people accessing them, many of whom are living on the streets of Cape Town’s inner city.

The teams have had more than 10 000 contacts with service beneficiaries, which range from providing health education to testing people for HIV and starting them on antiretroviral treatment. Nearly 9000 ‘harm reduction packs’, which contain sterile injecting equipment, have been distributed.

‘That may seem like a lot of needles in the environment, but we need to think of each of them as a potential infection averted.’ Said Prof Harry Hausler, CEO of TB HIV Care, at the launch ‘Our clients are also provided with portable ‘sharps’ containers to store their used needles safely until they can return them to us and we undertake regular outreaches to pick up used needles that have been discarded inappropriately.”

Speaking about the importance of reaching vulnerable populations, which will enable South Africa to reach goal three of the National Strategic Plan for HIV, TB and STIs 2017-2022 ‘leave no one behind’ as well as echoing the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development Agenda which “endeavour(s) to reach the furthest behind first.”, MEC Mbombo mentioned the strides the Western Cape has made in reaching marginalised groups such as people who inject drugs, as well as sex workers, men who have sex with men, transgendered people and inmates in correctional centres

Naomi Burke-Shyne, Executive Director of Harm Reduction International NGO dedicated to reducing the negative impacts of drug use and drug policy, commented on how encouraged the international community is by developments in subSaharan Africa, “To see government represented in the room today, supporting this initiative, is inspiring.”