Remove Stigma, Decriminalise Drug Use To Curb Vice: Civil Society

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By James Muonwa

THE battle against rampant substance abuse, particularly among youths in the country, can be won if society removes stigma on alcohol and drug users coupled with strong legislation on intoxicating substances, activists say.

The Zimbabwe Civil Liberties and Drug Network (ZCLDN) is lobbying society to accept the cancer of substance abuse that has lately engulfed Zimbabwe and embrace those affected as they go through rehabilitation.

People who use or inject drugs (PWUID) are facing difficulty in getting health services due to stigmatisation, while the country’s laws categorise substance addicts as criminals, instead of people who need help.

In a statement to mark International Human Rights Day (IHRD) Thursday, ZCLDN said government must implement strategies to stop stigma and criminalising sufferers.

“ZCLDN encourages the Government of Zimbabwe, authorities as well as communities in general to consider the plight of PWUID and continue recognising their rights, especially in accessing health services,” reads the statement.

It further states: “ZCLDN notes with concern the vulnerability of PWUID as they continue facing stigmatisation and criminalisation in their respective societies as well as when seeking healthcare services. It is our hope that PWUID should not be left behind when seeking treatment and that the government should continue engaging them in mapping a way forward to curb illicit drug use in Zimbabwe.”

The lobby group expressed hope the legislative framework will be amended to curb drug use rather than criminalising it.

“Furthermore, we note with concern that the country’s drug laws criminalise drug use and it is our hope that as we continue to fight for the welfare of PWUID, the government should consider evidence-based strategies that will help to reduce drug use challenges in general as well as HIV/AIDS in particular.”

“We, therefore, appeal to the government to fully implement the National Drug Master Plan and the Treatment and Rehabilitation Guidelines for Alcohol and Substance Use Disorder, which give a guide to harm reduction services and the adoption of decriminalisation policy.”

ZCLDN reiterated that every individual needs love, care and support, including PWUID.

This year’s IHRD campaign runs under the theme: ‘Equality-Reducing inequalities, Advancing Human Rights’ and the slogan ‘All Human, All Equal.’

IHRD is observed yearly on December 10 after adoption by the United Nations General Assembly in 1948 following the signing of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR).

The UDHR is a milestone document which proclaims the inalienable rights that everyone is entitled to as a human being regardless of race, colour, religion, or status.

The day is commemorated to raise awareness on people’s social, cultural, and physical rights, and to ensure promotion of people’s welfare.