Uganda: Substance abuse, the struggle is far from over
20 May 2011

Community counsellors during a training session near Kitgum, northern Uganda. Since August 2006, JRS has trained 500 volunteer counsellors in Kitgum district. (Angelika Mendes/JRS)
"There is a strong relationship between chronic poverty, particularly in areas populated by returnees, and alcohol production and abuse. More than 60 percent of returnee women in the northern district of Kitgum are engaged in alcohol production."
Kitgum, 20 May 2011 – Although much has been achieved in the last four years of JRS's counselling training and public awareness projects, a lot still needs to be done to eradicate substance abuse among returnee communities in northern Uganda.

Since August 2006, Jesuit Refugee Service Uganda has trained 500 volunteer community peer counsellors in Kitgum district, who have provided a range of support services, public awareness information, workshops on recognising and dealing with substance abuse and sexual- and gender-based violence (SGBV).

To date, more than 3,500 returnee women have benefited from these interventions. As well as offering one-to-one psychosocial support during home visits, the current team of 45 JRS counsellors continues to offer these services.

Workshops and events in the community are also organised to raise awareness, and help change attitudes and behaviours regarding the connections between substance abuse, SGBV and transmission of HIV/AIDS.

According to Godfrey Ogena, JRS Psychosocial Coordinator in Kitgum, these activities have contributed significantly in creating awareness and increasing responsiveness to substance abuse let alone, reducing incidents of SGBV, previously rampant in the communities. JRS has seen a reduction in the amount of time that returnees spent consuming alcohol, and less alcohol-related public and domestic violence.

Nevertheless, Mr Ogena admits that alcohol consumption tends to rise during certain seasons, e.g. during the dry season, election times, and festive periods.

While JRS has brought communities and other stakeholders – men, women, children, politicians, civil servants etc – together; in the final analysis the choice to overcome alcohol remains in the hands of the returnees.

Obstacles to preventing substance abuse

"Of course there are many obstacles. There is a strong relationship between chronic poverty, particularly in areas populated by returnees, and alcohol production and abuse. More than 60 percent of returnee women in the northern district of Kitgum are engaged in alcohol production," said Mr Ogena. A common substance, alcohol use is easily available and culturally acceptable.

"Many studies have demonstrated strong links between substance abuse, particularly alcohol, and sexual and gender-based violence and risky sexual behaviour. In fact, it has been identified as one of the major drivers of the HIV/AIDS epidemic, of which the consequences weigh more on returnee women. Yet, few specific interventions have been developed to deal with the issue", added Mr Ogena.

"Habitual substance abuse has multiple effects on the physical and psychological health and wellbeing of returnee women and community members. Unfortunately, rehabilitation is an expensive process, and it's particularly difficult to find the resources for returnee women in Kitgum", Mr Ogena stated.

Even though World Health Organisation statistics indicate that Uganda has one of the highest substance abuse rates in the world, the situation is believed to be significantly worse in the north of the country. In part, the difference is considered to be one of the consequences of the 20-year LRA insurgency in the north of the country.

For years the area was characterised by insecurity, displacement, crowded and unsanitary living conditions and a lack of employment. High instances of sexual- and gender based violence, HIV/AIDS and sexually transmitted diseases have also greatly increased substance abuse.

Unfortunately, the healthcare and social service providers frequently lacked the capacity to implement risk and harm reduction strategies in appropriate, i.e. community settings.





Press Contact Information
Angelika Mendes
easternafrica.communications@jrs.net
+254 20 3874152