Health News Wed, 20 Jan 2016

Dialogue on drug policy reform in West Africa opens in Accra

A two-day regional consultation on drug policy reform in West Africa to assess the impact of the international inventions on national drug policies is underway in Accra.

The dialogue organised by the West Africa Civil Society Institute (WASCI) with support from Open Society Initiative for West Africa (OSIWA) provide opportunity for government officials and national law enforcement agencies to discuss drug policy issues and reforms identified at the national level meetings.

The meeting brought together 40 participants from 11 West African countries including Benin, Cape Verde, Cote D’Ivoire, Ghana, Guinea, Guinea Bissau, Liberia, Mali, Nigeria, Senegal and Sierra Leone.

Mrs Nana Yaa Afadzinu, Executive Director of WASCI, said West Africa was increasingly becoming a hub in the global drug trade because it is a transit point for narcotics from Latin America through to Europe, and that organised crime syndicates are also operating with increases in local drug production.

She noted that this development was documented in a 2014 report by the West Africa Commission on Drug, “Not Just in Transit: Drugs, State and Society in West Africa” which emphasized decriminalizing some degree of drug use and possession for personal use.

Mrs Afadzinu said the report emphasized that the criminalization of drug use worsens health and social problems and puts huge pressures on the criminal justice system as well as increases corruption.

She said in 2013, UNDOC conducted a West Africa Threat Assessment that estimated the yearly value of cocaine transiting through West Africa as 1.25 billion dollars, which was more than the annual budget of many countries in the region.

Mrs Afadzinu stressed that the prevalence rate of cannabis use in West Africa stood at 12.4 per cent, higher than Africa 7.5 per cent and the global average of 3.9 per cent and that the independence of governance systems and security institutions were at risk of being undermined by corruption and organized crime.

She said numerous actions had been taken at regional level and across Africa for a balance approach on the issue of drug policy reform using the African Union plan of Action on drugs 2013 -2017 as a guideline.

The Executive Director said it is expected that at the end of the two-day meeting, participants would clearly identify milestones and challenges under the current drug policy measures in the region and stimulate and create regional momentum for drug policy reform in West Africa.

Mrs Christiana Kafando, Commissioner for West Africa Commission on Drugs said Africa needs to speak up with one voice and act in unity as far as the global drug policy reform was concerned.

She said drug trafficking was an international issue and that West Africa countries should not be left alone to bear the full burden of the struggle against criminal organizations that were often better equipped than the institutions fighting them.

“The international community must share the burdens created by drug trafficking through West Africa, arriving from South America and Asia and being sold to Europe and North America. Nations whose citizens consume large quantities of illicit drugs must play their part and seek humane ways to reduce demand for those drugs,” she added.

Source: GNA