June 17, 2019
Opération Sourire: Celebrating 30 Years
At the time, the prevalence of the disease was largely unknown. We have been active in the fight against HIV/AIDS ever since. Eastern and Southern Africa account for 43% of new HIV infections globally. In 2016, 19.4 million people were living with HIV in the region – more than any other region in the world.
Despite the progress made to combat the spread of HIV/AIDS in the region, in 2016 alone 790,000 new HIV infections were diagnosed in eastern and southern Africa. The work of our teams on the ground, and that of other NGO’s working on these issues, remains critically important.
Around 67% of users suffer from AIDS, with 1 in 3 testing positive for HIV or hepatitis. In Dar Es Salaam, Doctors of the World supports 4 centers that see up to 200 people a day. The centers provide screenings, clean needles, psychological support and referrals to health facilities. We also operate out of mobile units to reach more isolated users.
With over 1,400 kilometers of coastline, Tanzania acts as an entry point for illegal drugs into Africa. This has significantly increased the accessibility and consumption of drugs, such as heroin, throughout the country in recent years. As a result, transmission of diseases, such as HIV/AIDS and hepatitis, through infected syringes has spiked.
One of our team members, Ramson, is a prior drug user. Born in Dar Es Salaam in the poor neighborhood of Temeke, Ramson was 29 when he first tried heroin. “It was a mixture of tobacco and brown heroin from Pakistan,” he describes. “After that I smoked regularly for a decade and in 1999, I started to inject.”
For years, Ramson injected heroin several times a day, often sharing his needle with other users. “In 2000, I contracted Tuberculosis twice. After that I agreed to get tested for AIDS.” Ramson found out he was HIV positive in 2005, and with the support of our centers has been on antiretroviral medications ever since.
Our team of medical staff, mental health professionals and community outreach workers has conducted educational workshops in Nairobi, Kenya specifically designed for drug users to raise awareness about the risks of HIV and how it is transmitted.
Kenya has one of the highest percentage of drug users globally, and this vulnerable community is often marginalized and unable to access healthcare. As a result, drug users are disproportionately affected by the HIV/AIDS epidemic
An estimated 36%, or 1 in 3 drug users in Nairobi, have HIV. Many users do not have access to sterile needles and are unaware of the health risks associated with drug use.
At our health centers, our teams work with drug users to advise, offer psychological support, and provide clean needles to prevent further transmission of HIV. Patients can also be screened for various diseases, receive vaccinations and obtain referrals to other health facilities. In 2016, we saw almost 700 patients a month at our centers. We also operate a mobile unit in order to reach those who are unable to visit our centers.
Photography © William Daniels, Agnes Varraine Leca & Jelle Boone