Nassor Said Abdallah, 41, formerly a drug addict, is one of the peer educators and a beneficiary of Amref’s Afya Kamilifu project on HIV/AIDS care and treatment services, being implemented in Zanzibar since 2019. He is currently attached to Kidongo Chekundu Hospital. Kidongo Chekundu is the only MAT hospital in Zanzibar.
“My MAT number is 82 among 1,357 people who are now living without using methadone,” says Nassor, commonly known as Kolo, before emphasizing: “Many people know me by the name of Kolo.” MAT stands for medication for addiction treatment, a form of drug addiction treatment that uses medications such as Methadone.
Studies show that the use of Methadone by drug-dependent individuals, like Kolo, reduces withdrawal symptoms without causing the “high” associated with the drug addiction. Methadone is used as a pain reliever and as part of drug addiction detoxification and maintenance programs. Formerly as a pharmacist at Mnazi Mmoja OPD hospital, Kolo’s journey into the world of drug addiction started in 1991, when he was selling and using these illicit drugs. While he felt that what he was doing was not right and wanted to quit, the decision was not forthcoming, for he had already become an addict.
“I tried my best to get out of the situation…but I was like someone who had fallen into a deep hole and every time I tried getting up I kept falling right back in it,” he reminisces, with a tinge of regret. His drug addiction came at a big cost: he lost his job, friends and his family were totally disintegrated. He says: “My wife and kids ran away from me and are now in German. I had an almost finished house that did not get to the finishing phase. I lost all the promising opportunities I had.” The situation worsened as Kolo turned on to theft to sustain his drug addiction after he had sold every item he had, and he started sleeping where night found him, depending on food from garbage dumps for survival.
Luck for Kolo struck in 2019 when a friend referred him to Amref’s Afya Kamilifu project, which, among other HIV/AIDS interventions, helping people who inject drugs (also known as PWID). Studies show that this category is among the groups most vulnerable to HIV infection, for it is estimated that people who inject drugs are 22 times more likely to acquire HIV than among the rest of the population, through sharing syringes and having unprotected sex, because most addicts do not care to take precautions. In Mainland Tanzania, it is estimated that there are more than 30,000 PWIDs. In Zanzibar, an estimated 7 percent of the one million residents are drug addicts, one of the highest rates in the world.
Kolo was educated for two weeks before starting the medication. He was inspired by the results so far registered by his friends. “I was very eager to start with the treatment because I saw some of my friends doing well who were also there. I wanted to be like them. I kept following the lead until after two weeks then I received a red pill from a methadone clinic and started the process of using the medication,” says Kolo. He completed all the programs and proceeded to the pharmacy to start with methadone, which he has been using for more than two years now.
“My life has since changed. Many people, including my parents, wonder whether it is me, for they had no idea that I had joined methadone. It was only my change of behavior that alerted them. I started buying things, new clothes, and other necessities that I could not afford on my own. I used to live through spending but here at methadone my money is now secured,” he says, with a smile.
Having recovered from drug addiction, Kolo believes that he cannot recover all that he lost during his drug addiction spell, but believes he can still make a positive change in society, and help others facing the same problem. “I don’t like seeing anyone being tortured and risking their lives, because of drug addiction. This is an illness like any other, TB, HIV, and Fever,” he says. He has now turned to God and dedicated his life to helping others in a similar dilemma.
Kolo, like his fellow former drug addicts, is so thankful to Amref Afya Kamilifu project for this intervention, which has not only saved their lives but has also restored their dignity in society. Unlike in the past when Kolo was a ‘wanted man’ by the police due to his drug-related addiction, he is now a free man, ready to go anywhere and ready to free those being afflicted by drug addiction. He believes that once there are drug addicts out in the streets, nobody is safe, since their behaviors are unpredictable, and can visit violence on anybody and anytime.