10th May 2022 – Virtual – The signing of the first Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) in February 2022 by the principals of UNODC and The Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis, and Malaria (The Global Fund) formalized the collaboration between the two organizations. The aim is to support the implementation of the Global Fund Strategy, the Global AIDS Strategy 2021-2026, and the UNODC Strategy 2021-2025 in addressing HIV among people who use drugs and people in prison.
Accordingly, UNODC, in partnership with The Global Fund and WHO, organized a webinar on “Implementation of Opioid Substitution Therapy in South Africa.” Considering the critical rolenational governments play in establishing and implementing harm reduction interventions among PWUD, the webinar focused on building close partnerships among government agencies and community-led organizations, civil society organizations (CSO), academia, and international partners. These close collaborations among stakeholders are essential in advancing national responses to end AIDS as a public health threat by 2030.
The event saw the active participation of leading representatives from the National Department of Health, the National Department of Social Development, the Central Drug Authority, the National AIDS Council, The Global Fund, UNODC, WHO, CDC, and the South African Network of People Who Use Drugs (SANPUD). The focus of the webinar was to highlight the urgent need to scale up the implementation of opioid substitution therapy (OST) from private, donor-funded settings into public health settings; secure the inclusion of methadone and buprenorphine on the essential medicines list in order to facilitate their provision in public health settings; and build upon targets set out in the National Drug Master Plan 2019-2024 and see them implemented through activities from the National Department of Health, National Department of Social Development and the Central Drug Authority in Southern Africa.
The event was opened by the Regional Representative of the UNODC Office for Southern Africa, Ms. Jane Marie Ongolo. In her opening remarks, she also emphasized UNODC’s core mandates, which aim to build strong partnerships and meaningfully involve drug control and law enforcement agencies, prison authorities, justice and health sectors, civil society, and community-led organizations in the national AIDS responses to achieve successful public health impacts. From The Global Fund, Mr. Linden Morrison, Head of the High Impact Africa 2 Department (HIA2), commended the webinar for its timeliness, as it comes at a time when momentum for expanding the implementation of OST has been steadily building. Mr. Morrison cited the National Drug Master Plan and Global Fund-funded in-country pilots of OST as drivers for expanded OST implementation. He indicated that he hoped such events contribute to removing barriers preventing further progress in combatting HIV, HCV, and opioid dependence.
Dr. Zukiswa Pinini, the acting Deputy Director-General, HIV/AIDS, TB, MCWH, National Department of Health (NDOH), and Ms. Nyameka Mayathula-Khoza, Chairperson, Central Drug Authority, both emphasized that OST is the gold standard for treating opioid use disorders while also reducing other health and social risks such as HIV and HCV infection. With that in mind, they both stressed that increasing access to quality OST as part of a comprehensive health and social interventions package was necessary to achieve an evidence- and human rights-based, pragmatic, comprehensive, multisectoral, people-centred, and participatory approach to preventing HIV and other blood borne diseases among PWUD and people in prisons. Mr. Shaun Shelly – Chair, People Who Use Drugs Technical Working Group, South African National AIDS Council (SANAC), speaking on behalf of Dr. Thembisile Xulu (CEO, SANAC) – noted that, although harm reduction implementation in South Africa has witnessed some remarkable progress over the past ten years, gaps still remain, as most regions are not yet on track to meet UNAIDS HIV and HCV epidemic control targets. In this respect, Dr. Kgalabi Ngako, the Deputy Director of the Mental Health and Substance Abuse Directorate of the National Department of Health, provided insight on the current progress of OST implementation in South Africa. He outlined his institution’s plan for OST pilot programmes in public health facilities on the road to scaling up beyond current provision in private donor-funded settings towards more comprehensive coverage.
Making audible the voice of PWUD, the Executive Director of SANPUD, Ms. Angela McBride, advocated for OST provision to be comprehensive, affordable, acceptable, inclusive, and widely available for all. She particularly called for listening to and including women who use drugs (WWUD) in tailoring services specifically to their needs and circumstances. The Country Director for the CDC office in South Africa, Dr. John Blandford, voiced his support for advancing and scaling up OST implementation in South Africa.
The webinar was brought to a close with remarks from Ms. Hendrietta Bogopane-Zulu, the Deputy Minister for the Department of Social Development, who emphasized that stigma and discrimination are some of the main barriers that continue to discourage PWUD, especially WWUD, from accessing treatment. She further stressed the importance of putting people at the centre of responses and drawing lessons from efforts to reduce the HIV pandemic burden among other key populations, specifically men who have sex with men, in seeking solutions to combat HIV among PWUD.