African governments asked to embrace harm reduction approach
African health experts have said the adoption of harm reduction strategy and approach in public health programming and planning could help resolve the continent’s health dilemmas.
African health experts have said the adoption of harm-reduction strategy and approach in public health programming and planning could help resolve the continent’s health dilemmas.
This was revealed during a recent virtual Harm Reduction Exchange meeting for African journalists, Harm reduction advocates, and independent parties aimed at creating awareness and discussing the concept of harm reduction across Africa.
The experts emphasize that the harm reduction approach could be used at all levels or programs pointing out that it has also been applied in the provision of vaccinations for various diseases, the introduction of Antiretroviral treatment for HIV among others.
Moroccan specialist in drug addiction and behavior, Imane Kendili said Harm reduction in Africa is not related to sugar or tobacco or sex behavior alone but to everything about the issues on the continent.
“It’s very important to understand that harm reduction is not to be applied only to additions or sexual behaviors. We need to expand the idea and apply it to the environment, water, and sanitation among other things of interest,” she said.
Kendili further said harm-reduction is a good approach to many health issues such as Sexually Transmitted Infections, High Blood Pressure, and Diabetes, as it is very expensive for the government to treat than to prevent through harm reduction. This she says, also applies to smoking that leads to cancer.
She noted: “In terms of having less harmful smoking products, the reality is, we aren’t yet there. Smoke-free products are rather costly. They are still costly for the average community. What matters is that people should come to understand that stopping smoking for instance by prohibition will not succeed but alternative issues provided now.”
“Many countries have to purchase alternative products abroad. We should try to find strategies for alternative options. We first have to work on the behaviours. For people to rethink the cost, so people may use as an alternative.”
President of Association of Medical Councils of Africa, Kgosi Letlape said it is high time African leaders made independent and feasible public health decisions based on evidence and science other than instructions from colonial masters.
“ …. We are into harm reduction every day of our lives but we seem not to engage on this issue. We should ask our leaders to lead, engage and stop following,” he said.
He said African governments should ensure that less harmful tobacco products are available but this could only be possible if those leading could engage the relevant people, “the less harmful products should be accessible and available to the community. Some of these products should be produced in Africa so that we create jobs.”
This discussion comes at a time large tobacco buyers such as Philip Morris International (PMI) are encouraging smokers to switch from combustible cigarettes to smoke-free alternatives in a bid to address the public health risks that smoking poses.
In his remarks, French Oncologist Professor David Khayat said there is a need to accept that some ‘bad behavours’ are hard to stop.
“Whether we accept that these will continue or not, there is need for harm reduction…. It’s evident that the global Framework Convention on Tobacco Control didn’t work. We are still facing deaths from cancer related to smoking. Quitting is the best option but not easy. I have had patients on chemotherapy treatment but have continued smoking until death. Therefore harm reduction could work,” he stressed.