Category Archives: HIV

Revovery IS a Reality – Letter to the Editor

Letter published in the Cape Argus, Monday June 29th 2009, pg. 11.

The Editor                                                                                      27June 2009

Cape Argus

Dear Sir,

ADDICTION – THERE IS HOPE.

We all know about the destructiveness of drug abuse, and every week we read about more horrors, more violence, more crime that is directly attributed to drug abuse.

The disease of alcohol and drug abuse – described by some experts as a ‘social health nightmare –  is an epidemic of global proportions affecting millions of individuals, families, work places and communities.

The number of young people engaged in drug experimentation and regular use is alarming and demands urgent attention.

Addiction wreaks devastation, and respects no boundaries of income, race, occupation or geography. Crime is out of hand, and more than 80% of reported crime is drug related. Violence is entrenched in our families and more than 70% of gender abuse is drug related.

A conservative estimate of the health and other social cost associated with drug abuse in South Africa is R 12 billion per year. Drug trafficking also continue to foment corruption, one of the most formidable obstacles to good governance.

Yet, having just observed the International Day against Drug Abuse and Illicit Trafficking last Friday, the silence about addiction is entrenched in communities, workplaces, our churches, and in our homes.

This monster is living in our homes, yet we still ignore its presence.

It is easy for people to talk about their heart disease or kidney disease or diabetes or hypertension. Yet, the Disease of Addiction?

Generally our society still views drinking and drug use as a behaviour of choice or a moral failing instead of a health issue.

People impacted by addiction are reticent about asking for help as society at large still perpetuating norms that foster shame and stigma.

We tend to think of alcohol and drug problems in terms of junkies and alcoholics who need to be treated to overcome their addiction.

Of course providing treatment is important because it is likely to benefit treated individuals, yet it is not enough.

No matter how effective treatment is for the individual, if the family and community dynamics contributing to these problems are unchanged, it will do little to reduce the overall level of harm experienced at the family and community level.

Our health system traditionally addresses addiction when a crisis occurs: car wrecks, violence, criminal arrests, or firing from a job.

We act as though entry to a treatment centre is the beginning of the disease. The illness’s emerging symptoms and the remarkable fact or recovery remain below society’s awareness level. Both aspects of this inattention breed the ignorance and misinformation that cost us all so much pain and money.

Responding to the symptoms of addiction when they present themselves is consistent with the fact that alcoholism and drug addiction is a primary, chronic, and progressive disease.

Early awareness and early intervention lead to early recovery. Better education and life skills are needed to inform young people about the devastating effects of drugs, and to help them resist the pressures to experiment.

Efforts need to be in place to raise awareness.  Drugs are illegal because they are a problem, and not a problem because they are illegal. Drug education is HIV/Aids prevention.

Governments, NGO’s, schools, the workplace and the media must work hand-in-hand. Our collective efforts must focus especially on young people through education, outreach, peer-to-peer networks, and using platforms such as such as sport, music and entertainment that inspire young people.

Equally important is to engage parents, teachers and employers to play their part in full. Our efforts also require working to reduce supply. The light of science and not the darkness of fear and ignorance should guide these efforts.

Individuals and families who have survived addiction should now become visible and vocal stakeholders. Recovery is a Reality.

The good news is that today we enjoy a generation of people in recovery that is ready and willing to speak out and take on the role of mentors.

History teaches us that the voices of survivors, their family members and allies drive public responses to major illness.

Addiction is no exception. Recovery from addiction is happening for thousands of South Africans – rich and poor, young and old, executives and school drop-outs, women and men, black and white, country and city dwellers.

Achieving a stable, productive and fulfilling life is, in fact, a reality when proven solutions are applied. Appropriately diagnosed and treated cases of addiction yield many happy outcomes: Recovery happens. Families heal. Money is saved. Life gets better. Recovering people give back. Everyone wins.

We need to take responsibility to heal ourselves, our families and our communities. We need to embrace the hope of recovery, and  the spirit of courage, knowing  that Recovery is a Reality!

Yours Faithfully,

Jurgens Smit

Executive Director

FavorSA

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Teens in South Africa Smoke Anti-Retroviral Drug for Cheap High

No Turning Back’: Teens Abuse HIV Drugs

A drug intended to treat HIV and AIDS is sweeping the townships of KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa. It is cheap and powerfully addictive.

South Africa has one of the highest HIV infection rates in the world and KwaZulu-Natal province has the highest rate in South Africa — 40 percent. For the infected, anti-retroviral drugs, or ARVs, are the only things standing between life and a painful death.

The drug is so cheap and plentiful, thanks in part to a well-meaning effort by the American government to distribute ARV’, a program that has helped extend the lives of more than 500,000 AIDS patients.
But as the medical director of one U.S.-funded clinic said, ARV abuse is threatening to turn an HIV success story into a health crisis.

“It’s extremely frustrating,” said Dr. Njabulo Masabo, from the AIDS Healthcare Foundation. “It’s extremely, you know, discouraging because on one end you’re trying to fight this epidemic that has ravaged the world so much … the results are catastrophic.”

How ARV abuse began is uncertain. Taken as prescribed, Efavirenz can cause vivid dreams. Someone — possibly an HIV patient experimenting — discovered that smoking the drug greatly enhances those hallucinations.
Today, some of the illegal drugs come from HIV patients selling their own lifesaving medication for profit. Others are stolen from patients or pharmacies.

Pharmacies in the townships have banklike security. The drugs are kept behind vault doors, because they have an enormous black market value. Just one container of the ARVs is worth $60, and a whole shelf is worth $3,000.
Driving through the townships, a local AIDS health worker named Zola Shezi showed us the extent of the black market in ARVs. She saw drug dens everywhere; one she identified had children playing right outside.
“Just here, the man he owns the house, he built all these rooms … one, there’s one room where his customers stay and crush and do things.”

The few police we saw did nothing.

In just three years, ARVs have grown from a niche drug abused by a small number of HIV patients into a widespread addiction, increasingly among young people.

Many ARV abusers are young students, and in a neighborhood like the one we visited you’ll find dealers on almost every street, selling to students during school hours and just after.

In his house that doubles as a drug den, we met one of the dealers face-to-face. Dinda — he gave us a false name to hide his identity — said he earns many times what he could make, if he could find a job.

He acknowledged that the drugs are meant for people with HIV, but said “nobody can give me that money while I’m sitting at home; I have to go and do something for money.”

Recounting a story that’s not unusual in the area, he said he’s the only one of eight siblings still alive. His siblings were all victims of HIV or gang violence, leaving him to take care of a large, extended family.

“I’m unemployed, four of these years I am not working, if I can stop this we can all suffer,” he said. “So they shouldn’t blame me for what I’m trying to make a living out of.”


HIV Could Build Resistance to Medication
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For families of abusers, it’s a very different story. ARVs are powerful enough to turn even young people into violent addicts. We met Dudu, who told us her 21-year-old son steals from her to pay for his habit.

“Sometimes if I said I’m going to call the police he said he going to kill me,” she said. “I believe him.”

Now, South Africa may soon face a deadly consequence of ARV addiction. By smoking the drug, abusers are in effect giving HIV a small taste of anti-retroviral medication — not enough to kill the virus, but enough for it to potentially develop resistance to the drug.

It’s like “educating the HIV,” said Masabo. “And so you’ll find that we have a second epidemic emerging, an epidemic that we cannot control with the current drug that we have.”

Back in the drug den, the teenage addict Joshua told us what happens to HIV patients isn’t his problem.
“I feel guilty sometimes, but hey. I know what I’m doing is wrong, but what I’ve started I must carry on.”
The cemeteries of South Africa are already crowded with victims of HIV. Now, a new danger is threatening to put the country’s best defense up in smoke.

Read JIM SCIUTTO’s story here: http://abcnews.go.com/Health/MindMoodNews/Story?id=7227982&page=3