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COVID-19 Interruptions Hurt Drug Addicts on New Opioid Treatment

Twaib Wamala, the Executive Director of Uganda Harm Reduction Network (UHRN), an entity that links clients in need of the rehabilitation drug to the Butabika based Medically Assisted Therapy (MAT) clinic, says that many clients share Nalwoga’s story as they experienced interruptions and missed treatment during the lockdown.

Audio 5

Shamim Nalwoga had been on treatment for heroin addiction for less than two months when President Museveni announced the second nationwide lockdown in June at the height of the second wave of COVID-19, which saw hospital overfilling with COVID-19 patients.     

The mother of two and resident of Katwe in Makindye division was receiving the newly launched daily treatment with methadone, a restricted pain-relieving drug used to help people addicted to drugs from Butabika National Mental hospital.

//Cue in: “Nali ntambuza mere ………..    

Cue out: ………….  Bwetutyo bwetwatandika,”// 

Suddenly she says it became difficult for her to adhere since public transport had been suspended and often faced hurdles going through security checkpoints to get treatment.

//Cue in:” Abasirikale ba LDU ………..    

 

Cue out: …………tuli mentally disturbed”. //

She shares that even as she was on methadone, she would at times use heroin since she is slowly withdrawing but when the security operatives searched and found her with the drug they hit her and only secured her freedom with a bribe of Shs10, 000.

Twaib Wamala, the Executive Director of Uganda Harm Reduction Network (UHRN), an entity that links clients in need of the rehabilitation drug to the Butabika based Medically Assisted Therapy (MAT) clinic, says that many clients share Nalwoga’s story as they experienced interruptions and missed treatment during the lockdown.

While they intervened by offering addicts introductory letters to identify them as patients seeking treatment to enforcers of Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs), many still couldn’t afford travel because of the restrictions, which among others affected transport costs.

//Cue in:” Like our Uganda ……….       

Cue out: ……….. these are thugs”. // 

With her letter, Nalwoga reveals finding trouble at some checkpoints especially manned by the LDUs as they would often beat travellers on Boda bodas without hearing them out.

She says she missed some days of her daily treatment for fear of her safety and lack of transport considering that she had to reserve some funds in case she needed to bribe her way out of trouble. In addition, she says, her workplace had closed due to COVID-19.

As a result, her treatment, which the doctors initially had estimated would last about six months, has been pushed months further. Wamala says a number of others that spent days in detention missed their treatment and were on the verge of relapsing by the time they came out of prison.

//Cue in:” By the time ………….           

Cue out: …………. One in Mbale”. // 

Now, even with the lockdown lifted, Nalwoga appeals for help with transport as they access this free treatment. She says the majority of them were pushed out of work by the Pandemic economic displacement. 

//Cue in:” Methadone ddagala nyo ……….       

Cue out: ……….. Transport nga eyo”. //

Methadone is being used in a pilot mode as a project that was supposed to last a year in December 2020 when it was launched. Then, Dr. Byama Mutamba, a consultant psychiatrist who heads the alcohol and drug addiction unit where the new MAT clinic falls said they had targeted to assess how 300 clients using injection drugs responded to the treatment.

Now, Wamala says uptake of MAT has increased even with the pandemic challenges and the plan now is to open a similar clinic in Mbale soon.    

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