Zambia (Lusaka) – 14 November 2023 – According to World Drug Report 2023, Africa remains a key transit region for cocaine in the west, heroin in the east, and cannabis resin in the north. Drug abuse in Africa has far-reaching effects, encompassing health consequences such as addiction, an economic burden due to health care costs and lost productivity, an increase in crime and violence linked to drug-related activities, societal disruption by destabilizing families and communities, and environmental impacts through illicit drug production and trafficking. These effects can vary across countries within Africa, requiring a comprehensive approach to address drug abuse in the continent, including through prevention of drug use, treatment and recovery, and prevention of HIV/AIDS and other blood borne diseases among people who use drugs.
From 8 to 10 November 2023 the African Union Commission, in cooperation with UNODC, UNAIDS, the World Health Organization (WHO), and the U.S. Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs (INL) organized a High-Level session on Addressing Drug Use and Substance Use Disorders among Youth, Women and Children in Lusaka, Zambia. The meeting gathered ministers and government officials as well as experts from international organizations and civil society, including NGOs and academia to exchange on best practices and challenges in addressing the rising drug abuse among youth, women and children in the continent.
The meeting also served as a platform to launch the African Civil Society Forum on Drugs, a newly formed mechanism that will allow African civil society organisations to engage with the African Union in a meaningful, balanced way to better support Member States in the implementation of regional and international drug policy commitments. The Forum represents a milestone in scaling up civil society engagement and accelerating the implementation of international and regional drug policy commitments, enabling a more broad and balanced information exchange between African Union Member States and civil society organisations.
Preceding the High-Level Meeting, the Africa Civil Society Consultation in preparation for the 2024 CND Mid-term Review took place in Lusaka, Zambia on 7 November, bringing together some 60 representatives of African Civil Society Organisations.
The consultation provided a unique opportunity for civil society representatives to review the implementation of the 2019 Ministerial Declaration from their perspectives and discuss how civil society can better support Member States in the implementation of all international drug policy commitments.
In her opening remarks, Mirella Dummar-Frahi, Chief of the UNODC Civil Society Unit, praised the dedication and commitment of civil society organizations in making a positive impact on the lives of millions affected by drug abuse. She emphasized the importance of their work in contributing to the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals, especially Goal 3, which aims to ensure healthy lives and promote well-being for all at all ages.
Dr. Abel Basutu, African Union Commission, highlighted the importance of civil society contributions to the work of the African Union and its Member States. Dr. Basutu stated that civil society organizations play a pivotal role by delivering essential services, raising awareness, and advocating for evidence-based policies. “Their grassroots work and community engagement are crucial in reaching those in need, providing support, and empowering individuals to overcome challenges associated with substance use and related mental health disorders.” - mentioned Dr. Basutu.
Bernice Apondi representing the African Civil Society Forum on Drugs and Vocal Kenya outlined the objectives of the African Civil Society Forum on Drugs, stressing that the Forum aims to unite African civil society, giving all organizations a stronger voice and enhancing their capacity through resource mobilization, networking, advocacy, and promoting data collection and information sharing. Moreover, the initiative aims to engage policymakers on the ground in advancing prevention, harm reduction, treatment, rehabilitation initiatives and policy reform at both national and regional levels. The Forum will be independent but will work closely with the African Union, UNODC and VNGOC. It will remain an informal network of NGOs.
In the afternoon, the discussions focused on four challenges identified in the 2019 Ministerial Declaration, including the increasing links between drug trafficking, corruption & other forms of organized crime, the record levels of drug abuse & illicit cultivation, production & trafficking, the high transmission of HIV, HCV & other blood-borne diseases associated with drug use, and the increase in drug related deaths. The discussions as well as the preliminary results of the global online survey revealed that some progress has been achieved in addressing these challenges in the past four years, however civil society also identified several hurdles, such as limited capacity, lack of health professionals, and corruption at all levels of society.
Matej Košir, Chair of the Vienna NGO Committee on Drugs, in his closing remarks urged civil society organizations to look beyond the Ministerial declaration and bring fresh ideas and discussions to the forefront. He emphasized the need to set a strong example of how meaningful contributions can enhance international dialogues. The message conveyed the importance of the African Union and other entities collaborating on a daily basis, sharing insights, fostering discussions, and exchanging experiences to improve their collective efforts.
The collective strength of the African Civil Society Organizations, through their expertise, knowledge, and resource mobilization, positions them as pivotal players in the development and implementation of comprehensive strategies that are essential to address the root causes of substance use and the intertwined challenges of mental health disorders. By harnessing their potential, civil society organizations play a crucial role in fostering a healthier and more resilient society, ultimately contributing to the well-being of individuals and communities alike.