Maputo (Mozambique), 30 June 2023 – According to the 2023 UNODC World Drug Report, injecting drug use is on the rise, with over 13.2 million injecting drug users (IDU) worldwide in 2021, up from 11.2 million in 2020. However, despite the growing number, only 1 in 5 people with drug use disorders received drug related or specific treatment in 2021. Access to treatment remains low worldwide due to a number of factors, particularly the fear of legal sanctions and the social stigma faced by IDUs, preventing them from getting the help they need and further harming their physical and mental health. Women, in particular, face higher levels of social stigma and discrimination and increased fear of legal punishment and losing custody of children while in treatment and remain thus underrepresented in drug treatment.
Due to specific risk behaviors, IDUs face a 35 times higher risk of acquiring HIV than the general population. UNODC, WHO, UNAIDS and World Bank jointly estimate that 1 in every 8 IDUs is living with HIV. Drug use-related HIV transmissions are thus a significant contributing factor to the spread of the virus, including in Mozambique. According to the most recent bio-behavioral survey among people who use drugs in the country, conducted in 2013/2014, 50.1% and 19.9% of people who use drugs in the provinces of Maputo and in Nampula/Nacala, respectively, were HIV positive.
Against this background, on the occasion of the 2023 World Drug Awareness Day, centered around the theme “People first: Stop stigma and discrimination, strengthen prevention”, UNODC joined forces with governmental institutions, such as the National Health Institute of Mozambique (INS) and MozPud, a non-governmental organization, to organize the first-ever community forum of women with HIV/AIDS who inject drugs in Mozambique. The one-day forum, which brought together over 20 female drug users living with HIV and activists, served as a platform to discuss the key programmatic needs and harm reduction strategies for women IDUs in the country.
The brave account of a participating IDU highlights the harrowing experiences she has endured as a result of engaging in sex work, which she turns to due to her struggles with substance abuse, shedding light on a distressing reality faced by many women who inject drugs. As Zenobia Machanguana, UNODC National HIV Project Officer, explains “women who inject drugs are especially prone to be affected by HIV infections due to syringe sharing, sex work to purchase drugs and increased vulnerability to abuse, assault and rape.” This intersection of factors exposes female IDUs to a multitude of risks and emphasizes the urgent need for comprehensive support and intervention to address these issues.
Participants also examined the main results of the initial assessment conducted in the framework of the ongoing nationwide bio-behavioral survey among IDUs, set to be concluded in December 2023. Beneficiaries welcomed the joint work conducted by UNODC, INS and other relevant health authorities in implementing the survey, emphasizing that the availability of data on drug users and their vulnerabilities will significantly contribute to increased public awareness and a reduction in social discrimination and stigma.
Cognizant of the need for a whole-of-society approach to these complex and interlinked phenomena, UNODC has, in the past several years, strengthened its collaboration with multiple sectors of society in Mozambique, involving a broad range of actors, including governmental agencies, civil society and youth. Through initiatives such as this forum and other campaigns, UNODC has sought to raise awareness on the harmful effects that illicit drugs represent for individuals, families, communities and society at large, advocating for the need to put people first and reduce stigma and discrimination.
UNODC remains committed to continue supporting Mozambican institutions’ efforts to increase HIV testing, reduce drug demand, promote harm reduction interventions and reduce stigma surrounding seeking treatment, in line with the UNODC Strategic Vision for Africa 2030 Investment Area 1: Promoting People’s Health Through Balanced Drug Control.