By Geraldine Kauma
In 2004, the World Health Organization published a global status report on substance abuse that placed Uganda at the highest adult-per-capita consumption of alcohol in the world. This means that the country is an origin of alcohol and substance abuse, which accounts for 14% of all mental heath cases, according to a Mental Health Policy report in 2007.
In relation to HIV/AIDS, people living with HIV often start taking alcohol or drugs to overcome emotional trauma and mental illnesses like depression that come with testing positive.
In some cases, however, due to alcoholism and substance abuse, the chances of people engaging in unprotected sex and sharing needles for injection of drugs exposes people to higher risks of contracting HIV.
On Saturday, Reach Out Mbuya aimed to address these issues through an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting that brought together 112 participants at ROM’s site in Kinawataka. The gathering stressed the dangers of alcohol dependence and substance abuse, especially on the members living with HIV.
The meeting started at 10 a.m., with members arriving in groups, laughing merrily and telling stories. Some were dressed shabbily and reeked of alcohol and cigarettes, while others appeared well-kept and sober.
The counselor in charge of most of the clients struggling with alcohol, Harriet Nakuya, said that some of the members spent all day drinking and very few of them had a regular source of income or stable job.
“To attract such numbers, to sensitize them about their health and well-being, we have to offer them a transport refund,” she said.
The members were divided into groups according to their communities: Giza Giza, Kinawattaka 1, Kinawattaka 2, and Acholi Quarters, where they were told to create skits about alcoholism. The air buzzed with excitement as the members listened intently and laughed at the performances, which showcased the dangers of alcohol on families, such as divorce, as well as declining health due to failure to take the ARVs on time .
A mental health worker from Butabiika National Mental Referral Hospital, Dr. Jjuko Edward, spoke at the meeting to highlight how members could overcome the urge to take alcohol, smoke and take drugs.
Some of the members who had since reformed shared their testimonies, encouraging their peers to seek help from the Alcohol and Drugs Unit at Butabikka Hospital so that they too would be able to overcome the “deadly alcohol.”
“Nothing good ever came out of me being an alcoholic. I had no appetite and could take waragi- local brew – all day long, and even forget to take my ARVs or take an overdose for the few times I remembered to take,” one gentleman said, who boasted of achieving a record of 4-months sober.
At about 1 p.m., the members broke off for lunch that was provided by Reach Out Mbuya before proceeding with the concluding remarks and feedback from the clients.
The meeting ended at 4 p.m. with closing remarks from Reach Out Mbuya staff and a call to those who wanted to quit alcohol to approach the Alcohol and Drugs Unit in Butabika to get help and live better lives.
The clients shared the challenges they faced in a bid to quit alcohol or smoking. These ranged from the company they kept to the craving overpowering their zeal to be sober.
They were also advised to seek counseling and get support from others going through the same addictions in order to avoid the bondage that comes with dependence on alcohol and other dangerous substances.