11th August 2022 – Zimbabwe (Webinar): Implementation of Comprehensive, Evidence-Based HIV Interventions Among People Who Use Drugs in Zimbabwe.

UNODC and The Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis, and Malaria (The Global Fund) have co-organized a series of webinars in Africa with the aim of scaling up harm reduction interventions in the region. On 11th August 2022, the last of the series was organized in Zimbabwe by UNODC in close partnership with The Global Fund and WHO under the theme “Implementation of Comprehensive, Evidence-Based HIV Interventions Among People Who Use Drugs in Zimbabwe.” The purpose for the webinar was to facilitate technical guidance and the sharing of experiences and best practices with respect to harm reduction programmes in Zimbabwe. As such, the discussions touched on the latest technical guidance issued by UNODC and WHO, as well as best practice examples from the country level. The event brought together high-level government officials, representatives from National agencies as well as community-based organizations (CBOs). In this respect, the webinar created the necessary platform for decision-makers and stakeholders to share valuable country experiences on how to ensure the continuity and sustainability of HIV prevention, treatment, care, and support services for people who use drugs and people in prison and how to implement evidence- and human rights-based policies that ensure access to effective HIV programmes for people who use drugs and people in prisons. The webinar was moderated by Gunasekaran Rengaswamy, Regional Programme Officer, HIV and AIDS Prevention and Care, UNODC ROSAF.

The event was opened by the Regional Representative of the UNODC Office for Southern Africa, Jane Marie Ongolo. In her opening remarks, Ms. Ongolo noted that UNODC’s overarching goal in working with countries is to ensure the health, well-being, and security of all individuals while respecting their human rights. She further highlighted that, based on recent statistics on key populations, there is the need to tailor intervention programmes that target these populations who are disproportionately affected by HIV/AIDS and other bloodborne diseases. From The Global Fund, Linden Morrison,

Head of the High Impact Africa 2 Department (HIA2) noted that Zimbabwe’s HIV/AIDS programme is one of the stellar programmes of The Global Fund. He further highlighted that, although Zimbabwe has a reputation for delivering results and working diligently to address issues and reducing HIV prevalence and infection rate in the country, gaps remain as programmes such as OAT and NSP are unavailable, as well as data on key population. Mr. Morrison, however, stressed that, together with stakeholders in Zimbabwe, he is confident these gaps will be addressed.

Taking his turn, Prof. Paul Mavima, Minister of Public Service, Labour, and Social Welfare and the Chair for the Inter-ministerial Committee on Drugs in Zimbabwe, touched on the current upsurge in drug and substance abuse in Zimbabwe, particularly among the youth and children who live and work on the streets. Prof. Mavima further emphasized that most of these young populations use unsterilized needles and syringes to inject drugs, and this situation is a result of the easy access to drugs on the streets. He reiterated the need for strategies and policies to address these issues. Prof. Mavima then called on all stakeholders, including government agencies, CBOs, development partners, the private sector, and individuals, to come on board and work together to eliminate this issue in order to overcome the upsurge of HIV/AIDS in Zimbabwe. He concluded by noting that key populations remain paramount in the quest to minimize the spread of HIV/AIDS.

Speaking on behalf of Sophia Mukasa Monico, UNAIDS Country Director, Jeremia Manyika remarked that injecting drug use accounts for the ever growing population of PLWHIV. In addition, he noted that despite the increased risk of acquiring HIV, injecting drug users are among the least to access HIV prevention, treatment, and care services. He further mentioned that drug use is often criminalized and stigmatized, and in many settings, harm reduction is not available or limited due to restrictive and ineffective policies and laws. Jeremia also noted that women who use drugs are more likely to conceal their situation due to societal discrimination and the fear of losing custody of their children. In this respect, UNAIDS Zimbabwe has provided financial and technical support for situational analysis of drug use in 5 provinces. The findings will help in improving the programmatic response among people who use drugs in Zimbabwe.

In the presentations, the representative from the National AIDS Council, Humphrey Ndondo, and the representative from the Zimbabwe Civil Liberties and Drug Network, Wilson Box, spoke on “Multisectoral HIV response among KP” and the “Drug Master Plan” respectively. Mr. Ndondo talked about the situation of KPs in Zimbabwe and highlighted the best practices and challenges that persist. Mr. Box discussed the Zimbabwe National Drug Master Plan, which aims to provide a clear roadmap in addressing the cross-cutting drug use problem and the results-based implementation matrix to better illustrate and ensure rigorous monitoring and evaluation. Presentation from Fabian Musoro, Mental Health Department, Ministry of Health and Child Care, touched on the state of PWUD with respect to treatment services in Zimbabwe. Charity Dheka from the Students for Sensible Drug Policies (SSDP) Zimbabwe discussed “Youth perspectives and access to services for young PWUD.” She reiterated the absence of harm reduction services in Zimbabwe and the need to scale up HIV prevention, treatment, and care services as well as policy reforms regarding drug use in Zimbabwe. The final presentations saw Ancella Voets from Mainline, and Mary Mugambi, from the Ministry of Health, Kenya. Ancella discussed the preliminary findings from the Zimbabwe situational analysis of drug use and injection in five provinces, aiming to produce results that will aid HIV and TB programming for people who use or inject drugs. Mary, on her part, shared the Kenyan experience in implementing harm reduction interventions. She highlighted the success and the challenges faced, and the gaps that persist.

Fariba Soltani, Chief, UNODC HIV/AIDS Section, and Global Coordinator for HIV/AIDS, provided closing remarks, thanked all participants for contributing to the webinar’s success. She congratulated Zimbabwe for the national Drug Master Plan. She specifically commended Zimbabwe for including a pillar on harm reduction in the Drug Master Plan, which covers HIV, TB, and hepatitis screening, and recognizes the importance of having a multisector stakeholder engagement with strong involvement of the communities and law enforcement. She also noted that this webinar is intended to begin a conversation about these crucial HIV interventions, and sustained discussions and actions must follow this meeting to achieve progress. Finally, she reiterated UNODC’s readiness to provide technical assistance to guide the implementation of evidence-based practices.