Using harm reduction knowledge and human rights approaches from Pakistan and the Netherlands to respond to HIV among people who use drugs in Kenya

Under the umbrella of Bridging the Gaps, Mainline coordinates the implementation of the project focusing on people who use drugs in different countries. Some of these countries, such as Pakistan, have a long-standing experience in working with harm reduction programmes, while in other countries, including Kenya, these programmes – that are known to be effective – are not in place yet. Rather than re-inventing the wheel, Mainline and Nai Zindagi (Pakistan) created a strategic partnership and went on a ten-day mission to Kenya. The aim of this mission was to support their Kenyan partners to be able to provide a comprehensive package of services for people who use drugs.

For me it was a pleasure to lead a team that respected each other’s qualities and roles, so that we could focus on what we wanted to achieve:  the organisations to become more efficient and effective in responding to the human and health rights and needs of the beneficiaries. Miriam Elderhorst, Mainline, mission team leader.

Making use of each other’s strengths

During the mission to Kenya, all partners were visited and both their organizational systems and the quality of their services were assessed. The team members came from different countries and their knowledge and experience were based upon different (socio-economic, political) contexts. The Pakistani colleagues focussed more on sharing their harm reduction experience in a low-income, sometimes failing government structure. Mainline added their Dutch experience on harm reduction that includes working from a human rights approach.

Every organization has its strength and weaknesses. Missions like these should be balanced in such a way that what is one partner’s weakness should be the other partner’s strength and vice versa. This is what we witnessed – for example areas of human rights are weaker within Nai Zindagi and we managed to experience from the Mainline team new areas even for ourselves to explore. Tariq Zafar – Nai Zindagi

Role models

In Pakistan there is a concentrated epidemic among drug users. Over the past 10 years Nai Zindagi has built up an impressive track record in developing and implementing national programmes covering the full continuum of care for people who use drugs (ranging from basic harm reduction services to abstinence based treatment options and life stability components like vocational training and income generation). In Kenya drug use is a relatively new phenomenon. Drug use is seen and addressed as an addiction problem and organisations that provide services for people who use drugs work from an abstinence based approach. As the context in Pakistan and Kenya is comparable in several ways, it is easier to compare, share and act as a role model.

Without reservation I can say that Nai Zindagi is a role model for our programme and organisation. The mission gave us hope and and motivation to continue serving people who use drugs. Personally I have learned a lot from this mission and I believe in the future we will also be role models to future partners. Abdalla Badrus, MEWA drug use programme Kenya

Moving forward

The joint mission has been a big success for all partners involved. In the coming period an action plan for the PUD project in Kenya will be developed and both Mainline and Nai Zindagi will jointly train their Kenyan colleagues on organisation building and harm reduction programming. In November there will be an exchange visit to Pakistan to further build on this inspiring and fruitful collaboration.