At the Fann Hospital in Dakar, a special department provides an opioid substitution therapy programme to drug addicts. Commonly called CEPIAD it is a drop-in clinic aiming to reduce the spread of HIV, as opioids are pain-relieving drugs often linked to needle sharing and unprotected sex both high-risk factors for HIV. 250 people are currently following the treatment.
"Methadone is a medicine that acts as a heroin substitute. In our case, it’s a syrup dosed in 10mg/ml portions. Doses vary from patient to patient.”, explains Mangane Bouthia, pharmacist.
In Senegal, people who inject drugs are over four times more likely to get HIV. More than three-quarters of CEPIAD patients are men, but the centre has been reaching out to women as HIV prevalence is higher among them. Mariama Ba Thiam is a former addict and a peer educator, “I go out into the community and visit my peers to raise awareness about getting off drugs and reducing their use, I address them to CEPIAD, so they can, like me, stop drugs.”.
CEPIAD has also become a screening and diagnostic centre for HIV, tuberculosis, and hepatitis. Along with psychosocial support, it encourages professional development and organizes courses such as making soap, painting or gardening. Something that helped El Hadj Diallo, “Gardening is a type of therapy. When we are here, we forget our problems.”, says the former addict while taking care of his plants.
Drug use is a criminal offence in Senegal, but CEPIAD has the government’s support and various international organizations like UNAIDS and The Global Fund.
In a report published this week, UNAIDS pressed governments to act more against HIV. The international organisation said policies had failed to progress because of the COVID pandemic. UNAIDS also showed that globally, the number of new infections dropped only 3.6% between 2020 and 2021, the smallest annual decline in new HIV infections since 2016.
"Ultimately, ending AIDS would cost much less money than not ending AIDS. Importantly, the actions needed to end AIDS are also key for overcoming other pandemics", declared Winnie Byanyima, Executive Director, Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS) during a press conference on July 27.
UNAIDS launched this report just before the opening of the International AIDS Conference in Canada which will run until August 2nd.