In April 2014, Marcel de Kort, Senior health advisor at the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs visited our partner MEWA (Muslim Education and Welfare Association) in Mombasa. Mr de Kort indicated to be impressed by the innovative harm reduction programme of the organisation and the pioneering attitude of the staff. At the same time, MEWA staff was happy to see the sincere involvement of Mr de Kort with regards to the health and human rights of people who use drugs and to show him what is actually happening on the ground.

During his visit, Mr de Kort visited the drop-in centre, where MEWA staff provides information, medical services, food and second hand clothing for people who use drugs. In addition, Mr de Kort went into the field with outreach workers, who provide clean needles, first aid, HIV tests and health information to people who use drugs.

One way of getting the message on the human and health rights of people who use drugs across to government agencies, is lobby & advocacy. However, the message becomes clearer when government officials come and see what happens on the ground!

Fatma Jeneby, MEWA

Experienced outreach workers are key

The outreach workers working for MEWA have a lot of expertise with regards to the drugs scene. They are accepted and trusted by the people who use drugs and the community. Although they were not prepared for this visit, they were eager to show their work.

Clients opening their doors to our staff and a visitor, was an achievement worth mentioning. It shows the success of the outreach workers building trust and beneficiaries’ appreciation of the quality services we provide them with.

(Fatma Jeneby, MEWA)

It is great to see that former drug users can work as outreach workers, they are crucial for the implementation of an effective harm reduction programme.

(Marcel de Kort, Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs)

Establishing a continuum of care

MEWA is working very hard to establish a continuum of care, working from a harm reduction approach, offering services that are tailored to  the needs and demands of the client. This includes needle exchange, risk counselling, a detox for men, residential treatment, and a facility for women. A methadone programme will start shortly. In the future, if there are more resources available, there might be some opportunities to have a separate detox , outpatient treatment and inpatient treatment.

Setting the example for other African countries

In Mombasa, MEWA is well-known for their harm reduction programme that. Working with drug users without making judgements on their behaviour and lobbying for their human  rights and access to quality health care services, also means dealing with resistance form the community, more particularly religious leaders. Mr de Kort even called MEWA staff ‘African Champions’.

MEWA is a very experienced and strong organisation. They went through a process everyone has to go through: from primary prevention advocates, to abstinence based treatment, to harm reduction.

(Marcel de Kort, Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs)

There is a need for harm reduction interventions in more African countries. It is important to realise that organizations like MEWA have the experience to set up such programmes. And to be able to do so, it is crucial that African governments and international institutions give their support!