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Mental health experts scarcity cripples battle on drug abuse



EXPERTS say the fight against drug abuse in Zimbabwe is an uphill task, against the backdrop of a serious shortage of specialised mental health experts who are crucial for rehabilitation.


This is compounded by inadequacies in key legal framework, which is making it difficult for litigation against drug suppliers.

In 2020, the government launched the Zimbabwe National Drug Master Plan (2020–2025),aimed at reducing supply of drugs, through law enforcement.

However, findings by governance institute Accountability Lab Zimbabwe (AL Zimbabwe) through its Civic Action Team (CivActs), shows that the government’s efforts are likely to be further whittled by an acute shortage in trained experts, and policies on drugs that have become outdated.

“While Zimbabwe has ‘talked the talk’ on addressing Drug and Substance Abuse, and attempted to ‘walk the talk’ through laws and policies and intentions to curb the proliferation and escalation of drug and substance abuse, several key challenges have the potential to undermine the government’s efforts,” reads the policy brief.

“There is insufficient public information on the character and scope of the crisis which, in part, is due to a lack of national monitoring system for substance use in the country.”

The findings show that Zimbabwe has only 17 psychiatrists, six clinical psychologists, 13 clinical social workers and 10 clinical occupational therapists, in addition to being grossly underfunded.

The policy brief also showed that key legislation on drug abuse is outdated, rendering it ineffective in addressing challenges related to drug abuse.

The holes in legislation have seen drug peddlers being released on minor technicalities because existing laws do not identify new types of drugs that are currently on the market.

For instance, the importance of updated laws has become amplified following the February case involving Mufakose drug dealers Prince Samuriwo (35) and Humphrey Banda (44) who were nabbed by undercover Zimbabwe Anti-Corruption Commission (Zacc) officers while in possession of 83 grammes of crystal meth, an illicit drug.

In their defence, their lawyer argued that: “Crystal meth is not a scheduled drug,” making arrest impossible. His defence was also in line with section 70 (k) of the constitution which directs that no person can be convicted of an act of omission that was not an offence when it took place.  

AL Zimbabwe CivActs project officer Tinotenda Chishiri told The NewsHawks that the inadequacies are severe and are likely to undermine the fight against drug abuse.

“Inadequacies in our legal framework are actually very severe and they have an impact in being able to adequately address this issue of drug and substance abuse. So in the National Drug Master Plan that the government created, one of their pillars was around reducing supply and one of those ways was through law enforcement,” Chishiri said.

“But, they are not able to then adequately carry out that law enforcement as there is not supportive legislation for them to be able to actually convict these suppliers and stop the supply of drugs into communities.

“So, for example, one of the gaps that we noticed within legislation was around the issue of definition of drugs. So, if you notice in the Dangerous Drugs Act, which was enacted, I think, around 1958, around the 1950s, around the 1960s, there are certain drugs that are defined as being covered by the Act.” 

Chishiri said Parliament ought to update the outdated laws to allow for effective litigation against drug suppliers within the value chain.

“And so people can be convicted if they are selling those particular drugs that are mentioned in the Act. But now, like we are saying, time has gone on since the 1950s, since the 1960s. There have been a lot of changes, there has been a lot of evolution with regards to people now smoking pampers. There are now illicit brews that are being mixed. They all use new drugs, all these new illicit substances that are not covered by the Act,” she said.

“And so as a result of that, if someone is arrested for selling drugs, and they are selling drugs that are not covered by this Act, they can actually be set scot free. Just on that small technicality, the Act says it covers these drugs, you are selling a drug that is not covered by this Act, and as a result you will be set free.”

“So yeah, I think we definitely need to prioritise the issue of updating our legislation, so that we are able to cover these new issues if we are going to really curb the supply.”

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