Eastern Africa has continued to become a significant region in drug trade (UNODC 2016). While initially it has been more of a transition route, there has been increasing demand of drugs for consumption. Africa is estimated to have received about 9% of the global flow of heroin as at 2011 (USAID 2013).
Increase in drug consumption in the region has come along with new challenges to public health and security. With the region already experiencing a HIV epidemic, increasing drug use has exacerbated infections, especially among populations of people who inject drugs, and also highlighted other blood borne infections such as viral Hepatitis (especially Hepatitis C). Most of the health care systems have been addressing drug related problems in ways that have left significant gaps in addressing other challenges that come with drug addiction.
Supply suppression and demand reduction have remained the key strategies being enforced to manage drug trade and consumption. Consequently, these two approaches have traditionally missed opportunities to address concerns among drug users, complicating health and social outcomes.
Harm Reduction is an approach to the drug use problem that has recently been introduced in some countries in Eastern Africa. Harm reduction works to reduce the health, social and economic consequences of drug use, while considering the health and human rights of people who use drugs (PWUDs)
Mauritius, Kenya and Tanzania have taken bold steps to initiate strategies and interventions fronted by the harm reduction approach as effective in mitigating drug use problems. In these three countries, needle and syringe programs and medically assisted treatment in the form of methadone have been introduced, primarily targeting to reduce HIV infections among people who inject drugs.