May 27, 2022

Mawazo Writing Africa

Writing about the main

Surge in drug abuse strains Zimbabwe’s health system

Gamuchirai Zhou has struggled for the past six months to find a psychiatric hospital that can accommodate her 22-year-old son in Zimbabwe’s capital, Harare, as beds at public health facilities are limited due to a surge in the number of drug addicts seeking treatment.

Zhou’s son suffered from a mental illness early last year due to substance abuse that began when he was in secondary school.

Treatment for drug abuse

She said that her son becomes very violent, especially when they refuse to give him money to buy medicines.

“The doctors in the state hospitals say he can’t be admitted because of the facilities are full and most patients suffer from drug-related mental illnesses,” Zhou said.

“They only give him an injection to calm him down, but that problem is that he would be using drugs a few days later and the violent behavior would start up again.”

The family cannot afford treatment in private health facilities because l How many households in Zimbabwe lost their income after the outbreak of Covid-19 has dealt a serious blow.

Hopewell Mungani, clinical director of the psychiatric department at Sally Mugabe Central Hospital, confirmed the crisis in the public health facilities they were overwhelmed.

Some patients are becoming now being sent to prison for three months to “cool off” instead of being treated in hospitals.

“Substance abuse has reached crisis levels,” said Dr. mungani. “We accept patients who are in crisis, such as those who are psychotic, suicidal or homicidal as a result of substance abuse.

“We have no capacity for long-term rehabilitation.”

He said that ideally, drug abuse patients need dedicated and robust community follow-up before and after their discharge from hospital, but Zimbabwe’s health system is unable to cope with the number of people who are dying because of drug-related problems seek treatment.

“We only send dangerous patients to Chikurubi (maximum security prison), for example those who are repeatedly violent or those who commit crimes to finance their drugs [addiction] or because they are drunk,” added Dr. Mungani added.

Socio-economic crisis

The health system crisis reflects Zimbabwe’s growing problem of drug abuse, particularly among youth, which worsened with the emergence of the Covid-19 pandemic.

In a country with limited job prospects for its young people, many become involved in dangerous substance and ce abuse with little chance of full rehabilitation.

Zimbabwe has an estimated 90 percent unemployment rate, with young people hardest hit.

The World Bank said last year the outbreak of Covid-19 pushed 1.3 million Zimbabweans into extreme poverty, putting the number of extremely poor citizens at 7.9 million, or 49 percent of the population left.

It is said that in 500,000 Zimbabwean households at least one member has lost his job and experts say these are some of the developments that are driving the problem of drug abuse chs in the South African country to crisis levels.

Johannes Marisa, President of the Medical and Dental Private Practitioners of Zimbabwe Association, said Mount Drug abuse in the country was linked to the deepening socio-economic crisis.

“We’re in trouble as a country,” said Dr. Marisa. “[Many] youth resort to drug and substance abuse, and this is largely due to high unemployment.

“In some places, it has become fashionable to use drugs such as cannabis, cocaine, methamphetamine and sodium consume polyacrylate from diapers and alcohol.”

Other common drugs include marijuana, cough medicine and alcohol.


Philani Ncube, a top league soccer coach, upset the hornet’s nest as the country resumed football activities after Covid-19 lockdowns when he claimed that 80 per cent of players in the division are now addicted to drugs.

“I can tell you, that almost 80 per cent of them Zimbabwean football players use drugs,” Mr Ncube said at the time.

“These boys use drugs as part of their lifestyle. I can tell you these guys can pass a Covid-19 test but not a drug test. The sad thing is that these things are trending even at junior level.”

Some of the most potent drugs used by youth in Harare’s slums are home-made concoctions, such as sodium polyacrylate or waterlock, made in backyards .

The substance that absorbs urine in diapers is found in laundry detergent and used in diapers.

Drug dealers also take advantage of Zimbabwe’s use of foreign exchange as a legal tender and the country’s porous borders, to smuggle in drugs like crystal meth, heroin, cocaine and cough medicine like Broncleer to supply an ever-growing market for drugs.

A gram of crystal meth costs in Zimbabwe’s townships and Most drug addicts have to resort to criminal activities, to maintain their habits.

The Zimbabwe Civil Liberties and Drug Network (ZCLDN) said increasing cases of drug trafficking and drug abuse are leading to a ” will place a heavy burden on families and communities, health and safety systems and the national economy.”

ZCLDN said it has been working with the government to develop a national drug master plan in response to the deepening crisis.

“The Action Plan underscores the need for supply reduction, harm reduction, demand reduction, treatment and rehabilitation policies for people who use drugs, and also for community reintegration,” said ZCLDN Director Wilson Box.

Zimbabwe has no official data on drug or substance abuse, but organizations such as ZCLDN say anecdotal evidence points to high levels of illicit drug use in the country, particularly following the outbreak of Covid-19.

President Emmerson Mnangagwa said earlier this year he was having an inter-ministerial committee to tackle the problem of drug abuse, as it is sic h had developed into an emergency.

He said it was “time to detoxify the minds of young people and rid them of drugs and other social evils”.

Police have also launched an operation to hunt down drug dealers and regularly reports on arrests and crackdowns on drug syndicates.