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DISEASE AND DEFECTS

Unborn kids bear the brunt of drug abuse

Medical expert says consumption and injection of drugs affects the unborn baby

In Summary

• Infants born in the streets, where drug abuse is rife, are at high risk of disabilities or infections like hepatitis B and HIV

• Reachout Centre programme aims to implement human and social-based approach to ensure drug users access health services

A heroin addict prepares heroin before using it in Lamu
A heroin addict prepares heroin before using it in Lamu
Image: REUTERS

Drug addiction not only affects a pregnant woman's unborn child but also parts of her body.

Speaking from experience, Mary Kahindi* (not her real name) from Mombasa said too much consumption and injection of drugs resulted in losing some of her teeth, which became weak and started breaking.

County official Dr Abdul Noor, the Medically Assisted Therapy In-charge, said women using drugs are always at high risk of hurting their unborn children.

 
 
 
 

“If a pregnant woman is using drugs, there is a high possibility of the child in her womb to get neonatal abstinence syndrome and withdrawal of drugs he is exposed to before birth,” Noor said.

He said after delivery, the baby is likely to have trauma and tight muscle tone, which will make him start crying as a sign of withdrawal.

Noor said women on methadone might be lucky to give birth to a normal baby because a follow-up on how she attends her clinic is always done, unlike pregnant women on the streets.

“Infants born on the streets with drug addict mothers are most likely at high risk of getting infections like hepatitis B, HIV or being born with disabilities,” Noor said.

Reachout Centre Trust programme manager Faiz Ahmed said Kenya does not have a female rehabilitation centre, which is a big challenge in the journey to help women recover.

“We do not have a female recovering drug user, unlike their male counterparts, where we have people who have recovered for 20 years. It has been a success because there is a rehabilitation centre and not for women," she said.

 

The organisation only has recovering women who are under methadone, an initiative that started three years ago.

 
 
 

Ahmed said Mombasa has never had a programme for children, which is known as “children of drug users”.

She said most women use their children as a shield to benefit for their daily drugs use.

“We tried to come up with an initiative of taking their children to Wema Centre but it did not work because they refused,” Ahmed said.

She called for a female shelter, which is a safe space for women who use drugs. Children raised in the streets get hooked to drugs at an early stage because they sleep and wake up seeing their parents using drugs.

Ahmed is now appealing to the community and women leaders to come out and help provide a female shelter to women and their children.

Reachout director Taib Abdulrahman said the needs of women are different from men. The programme is focused on interventions for women.

He said women lack support from their families, and so the programme has also come up with a very strong family intervention which helps to bring the families closer.

“We came up with a lobby group for parents called Reachout Parents' Ambassadors with the aim of uniting drug users with their families,” Taib said.

He said the community is hostile, discriminatory and stigmatising to people using drugs, and women with children suffer a lot more than men.

The organisation is working towards enrolling the children born on the streets to children's homes and training their mothers on how to do salon work, hair dressing and make-up.

“In Mombasa, we have 600 women who are using drugs, and out of these, 150 are enrolled on methadone. We have a target of enrolling more women and helping them recover,” Taib said.

He said the organisation is working towards implementing various human and social-based approaches in ensuring drug users access health services, are not incarcerated and get all the required basic humanitarian services.

When the process is properly approached, the drug menace in Mombasa can be tamed, Taib said. He urged the community, from county and national government, justice actors and all stakeholders, to work together to make it a successful mission.