Resilience Babies underscore the importance of improving access to drug treatment services for female drug users

Nigeria, 12 June 2020 -  Babies June, Simon, Lila and Arthur, collectively known as the “Resilience Babies” were all born to female clients of the Milestones Rehabilitation Foundation Drop-in-Centre (DIC) in Barnawa, Kaduna. At the time of their conception, their mothers had been involved in drugs and substance use. They all received support at the centre to stop their drug use and this enabled them to give birth to healthy thriving babies. Arthur’s mother describes her decision to attend the support group meetings at the Milestones DIC as “Honestly, that is one of the best decisions I made!”

Ms. Jennifer, a client of the Centre for Right to Health (CRH) Women’s Centre in the Mabushi Abuja suburb, described herself as a former female sex worker and a poly drug user, who also used to inject. She confirms that her life has changed as a result of the intervention of the centre. She has three children all of whom receive free medical and social services from the centre. She used to have health challenges as a result of her drug use but has seen a lot of improvement in her health. She also knows that some of her friends received services at the DIC, and their lives have all changed positively. She now owns a shop where she sells food and drinks in the community.

Ms. Bilkisu, another client at the CRH Centre, found out about the services at the DIC through an outreach programme organised by the centre. According to her, “meeting the nurse changed my life”. She was a poly drug user and has three kids. She is now one of the outreach workers at the centre.

With World Drug Day coming up on 26 June, it is an opportunity to recall that these are just a few of the personal experiences from the beneficiaries of the community-based drug treatment services in DICs which were supported by the European Union-funded and UNODC-implemented “Response to Drugs and Related Organised crime in Nigeria Project” (also referred to as the Nigeria Drugs Project) to provide free drug treatment services to female drug users.

In 2018, the Nigeria Drugs Project sub-contracted three civil society organisations (CSOs) to establish community-based drug treatment services in DICs providing free drug treatment services to female drug users. The rationale for establishing female only DICs was drawn from data from the five general population DICs which the project had supported since 2016 and the National Drug Use Survey, published in 2019 and which indicated that while one in four drug users in Nigeria is female, only one in twenty drug users accessing treatment was a woman or girl. The report indicated that female drug users were not readily accessing these DIC facilities even when they were free and at no cost. The reasons were primarily related to stigmatisation within the drug user communities, cultural limitations and, most significantly, that services for female drug users were not specifically tailored to address more holistically the challenges faced by female drug users. These include reproductive and sexual health issues and making these centres child friendly so that these women could access the services with their children.

These DICs run by the Centre for Right to Health, YouthRISE and Milestones Rehabilitation Foundation were located in Mabushi (Abuja), Nyanya (Abuja) and Barnawa (Kaduna) respectively. They are typically located in the heart of the underserved indigent communities, making it more accessible to those who most need to access the services being provided.

In addition to providing drug treatment services, the DICs also provided reproductive health and general outpatient medical services free of charge, to the clients and their children. A significant number of the female clients of these centres are female sex workers. They also provided referral services to other CSOs and public health centres such as for HIV/AIDS, Hepatitis B & C treatment services for clients who required them, antenatal and postnatal support such as delivery kits, diapers, food and skills acquisition training to their clients. In some cases, they also had to provide legal services to some of their clients who encountered problems with the criminal justice system.

Cumulatively, these 3 female DICs serviced a total of 1,783 clients. Their cumulative target was for them to provide services to 600 female drug users (200 each). The Kaduna centre alone accounts for a lion’s share of 1,394 clients.

The Nigeria Drugs Project has been critical in enabling these DICs in significantly enhancing their capacity to provide treatment and counselling services to drug users in need and have been able to sustain these services even beyond the support rendered under the project. Having said that, with more than 3 million people living with some form of a drug use disorder in Nigeria the actual need by far outweighs the capacity of both public as well as private drug treatment and counselling service providers. More investments in this sector are urgently needed to respond to and prevent the further spread of the drug use epidemic in Nigeria.

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