A BRIDGE TOO FAR

Rehab eludes addicts unable to raise high fees

People hooked on drugs wallow in a miasma for which quality rehab is the answer. The bill slapped on the services, however, locks them out and pushes them back to their habits. Such is the experience in Lamu

In Summary

• Khadija was shocked when she was told she had to pay Sh90,000 for admission

• In a county that’s riddled with poverty, landlessness and joblessness, it defeats the purpose

The new rehab centre in Hindi town, Lamu West.
The new rehab centre in Hindi town, Lamu West.
Image: CHETI PRAXIDES

The commissioning of the first-ever drug rehab centre in Lamu earlier this year came as a relief for addicts, including Khadija.

The Sh98 million facility, fully sponsored by the Red Cross, is situated at Hindi in Lamu West, and it has a holding capacity of 100 persons. It seemed a godsend to an area where bhang, cocaine and heroin are turning many people into zombies.

Addicts like Khadija have numerously expressed their desire to change and live clean, only that they couldn’t do it on their own.

To their utter dismay, however, the cost of services at the rehab is beyond their reach, so many have stuck to their habits.

Khadija has been vocal and open about her life as an addict for more than 10 years.

She says nothing is left for her to explore in as far drugs go, and that she is ready to change, having lost her marriage and children.

“My marriage could definitely not have made it because I am hooked. I have been using drugs for more than 10 years now. I have done it all and I’m tired,” she said.

Khadija was shocked when she walked to the facility with her sister, ready to start her journey to reformation, only to be told she had to pay Sh90,000 for admission.

“They said I would pay more if they decided to keep me at the facility for more than three months. I didn’t have a penny and so I walked back to my old life, and I’m still doing it,” she said.

Another addict, Khamis, who has been hooked for more than 13 years, says the costly rehab services are a slap in the face for many of them, who thought it would bring an end to their troubles.

Khamis said the assumption that many addicts can afford rehab just like they can afford the expensive drugs was misleading.

“I went there with a friend and when they said I had to pay Sh1,000 daily for three months, I just turned back and headed home. Where am I supposed to get Sh90,000 in these hard times?” he asked.

Mohamed says when the facility was commissioned, those concerned made it sound like services would be free for those who volunteered to be rehabilitated.

“I have been using drugs for at least six years. There is nothing funny about it,” he said.

“You don’t get to do anything meaningful apart from sitting pretty, waiting for your next dosage. I was disappointed when my friends told me they had gone there and turned away for lack of money, and here we were, thinking this thing came to save us.”

A COSTLY AFFAIR

The newly opened Lamu facility offers food, clothing, guidance and counselling, medication and family therapy sessions. It also offers training on special skills, which reformed addicts can use to better their lives once they move out of the centre.

The package costs Sh90,000, or Sh1,000 a day for three months. Much as the services are welcome and well-meaning, they are out of reach for many of the people they target due to the cost.

Lamu County Kenya Red Cross Society coordinator Kauthar Alwy, however, defends the high cost. She says the facility is currently run by more than 16 specialists, including medical staff, counsellors and trainers, all of whom need to be paid to ensure the rehab’s services don’t grind to a halt.

Lamu County Kenya Red Cross Society coordinator Kauthar Alwy.
Lamu County Kenya Red Cross Society coordinator Kauthar Alwy.
Image: CHETI PRAXIDES

She says people should think of the entire rehab package when talking about the cost to understand the charges. Things like food, medication and counselling are factored into it.

“We also do follow-ups on our clients to find out how they’re coping with life after leaving the facility, and all this is catered for within the Sh90,000 package,” Alwy says.

However, the cost of the facility defeats the purpose, having been erected in a county that’s riddled with poverty, landlessness and joblessness.

The families of the afflicted have joined local leaders in calling for either free or reduced fees to enable those affected rehabilitate.

They worry that their patients may never get the much-needed services to help them deal with the negative effects of drugs.

SCOPE OF THE MENACE

Countrywide, the coastal region has been especially hard hit with the drug menace.

The situation has been made worse by the challenge of violent extremism, which has rendered many addicts easy targets of radicalisation and subsequent joining of criminal gangs and terror groups such as al Shabaab.

In Lamu, areas renowned for high drug use include Lamu town, Mtangawanda, Pate, Siyu, Faza, Kizingitini, Mbwajumwali and Tchundwa.

More than 5,000 youth in Lamu have been confirmed to be using drugs.

And while the community viewed the establishment of the rehab centre as a new dawn that would rescue the youth, many are no longer sure if that will ever be the case.

The first 10 patients to be admitted for treatment at the facility had their entire bills paid for by the office of the Lamu woman representative Ruweida Obo.

Obo says her office is overwhelmed by requests and complaints in equal measure of local youth addicts, who have expressed willingness to reform and break the habit but are unable to as they lack funds for admission.

She has lodged a personal appeal to the management of the facility to consider cutting down the cost of services to accommodate as many victims as possible and subsequently serve its purpose.

Many affected families are poor. The county and national governments should consider forming a special kitty to help the situation. Otherwise, that rehab is quite useless here.”
Lamu woman representative Ruweida Obo

Obo urged well-wishers to come out and sponsor willing addicts. “We appreciate having the rehabilitation centre in Lamu. The only hindrance is the high fees charged for addicts to undergo rehabilitation services,” she said.

“Many affected families are poor. The county and national governments should consider forming a special kitty to help the situation. Otherwise, that rehab is quite useless here.”

She said the rehab risks ending up being more of a monument, just like other tourist attractions in the region, to be seen but not affordable to those who so much need its services.

Lamu deputy county commissioner David Lusava said talks are already underway by the ministry in charge to support patients.

“The government has good plans to assist the first 1,000 youth who will be willing to join the rehab facility at Hindi,” Lusava said.

“Your only role as Lamu people is to identify those particular drug addicts and they will be assisted by the ministry.”

Earlier this year, the county assembly unanimously passed a motion to sponsor all drug addicts for free rehabilitation services. However, nothing much has been done.

At least 500 drug addicts are among 20,000 people targeted for free enrolment into the National Health Insurance Fund in Lamu county, a programme targeting poor and vulnerable families.

Some of the beneficiaries, however, say they have been unable to access services at the rehab, even after presenting the cards.

Partners in the Lamu rehab include the Nons Verbe Foundation, the Italian Red Cross and the county government of Lamu, which provided the land on which the facility has been built and technical support.

WHAT REHABILITATION ENTAILS

According to Nacada, rehabilitation refers to the process by which a person presenting with a substance-related problem achieves an optimal state of health psychological functioning and social well-being devoid of substance abuse.

Normally, the process takes 90 days. Treatment services include detoxification, substitution or maintenance therapy and/or psychosocial therapies and counselling. Duration depends on the patient’s problems and needs.

Drug addiction is a complex disease, a chronic, relapsing brain disease. It involves a combination of ecological, physiological and historical factors. It is not voluntary behaviour and can be fatal.

Addiction treatment and rehabilitation in Kenya is largely a private sector and NGO affair, dating back to 1978.

Treatment and rehabilitation centres are few, operate in a policy vacuum and are expensive for the majority of Kenyans.

A report by Nacada found that more than five million people are hooked on drugs across the country.