Health experts from Zimbabwe’s uniformed forces as well as government officials expressed concern over the rising issue of drug and substance abuse and its potential to undermine efforts to achieve an HIV/AIDS-free generation by 2030.
The comments were made at the 10th Zimbabwe Uniformed Forces Health Services Conference, which took place recently in the country. General Philip Valerio Sibanda, the Commander of the Zimbabwe Defence Forces, stated in remarks that the increase in substance abuse threatens Zimbabwe’s Vision 2030 development goals that rely on the active involvement of youth.
Around 60% of patients admitted to Zimbabwe’s mental health facilities suffer from substance-induced disorders, according to the country’s National Drug Master Plan. The COVID-19 pandemic has also exacerbated substance abuse issues. General Sibanda noted that while drug problems were once associated more with homeless populations, they now cut across diverse social groups. Factors like unemployment, easy access to drugs, and lack of recreational activities help drive abuse higher.
Conference participants discussed how rising substance use correlated with greater HIV/AIDS infection risks. Around 250 delegates attended from Zimbabwe’s defense forces, police, prisons, parks and wildlife authority, health ministry, and national AIDS council. Representatives were also present from neighbouring countries like Botswana, Kenya, Tanzania and Zambia.
The annual conference aims to devise strategies through open discussion and debate. Previous meetings have helped inform new policies to benefit uniformed service members, their families and society at large. Zimbabwe has a strategic plan targeting 2021-2025 to curb HIV/AIDS as part of regional commitments. Ending the dual pandemics of tuberculosis and HIV by 2030 was highlighted as a shared priority.
Uniformed leaders and health experts agreed that tackling substance abuse issues constitutes an important part of achieving Zimbabwe’s health and development visions over the coming years. Regional cooperation on this growing challenge will also be critical to future success.