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An Overview of what I found during the September 2016 Recovery Mission to Ghana
By Maurice Graham
In 2004, members of the Narcotics Anonymous fellowship established the 1st NA meeting at Korle Bu Teaching Hospital. Korle Bu is part of the University of Ghana’s Medical School in Accra; Ghana’s capital city. It was started with members of Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) and Narcotics Anonymous (NA) at the Detox Unit for alcohol. That meeting still remains but has moved to the Psych Hospital, Pang Tang Center. Today, treatment to stabilize drug abusers is offered at this facility, now the ADDICTIVE DISEASE Unit. There are also meetings at Rehabilitation facilities and schools of higher learning like the House of St. Francis, Compassion Rehab Center and a meeting at the University of Ghana’s main campus.
Today in Ghana’s second largest city, Kumasi, an inland city and part of the Ashanti Region, there are two meetings. There are four large communities in Kumasi where addicts stand shoulder to shoulder in alleys openly using drugs day and night. I met a wonderful young member named Daniel of the NA fellowship who is attempting to get the message out that there is hope and we do recover. We went on local TV to help make this point while I was there.
In the coastal city of Cape Coast, there are two additional meetings at Ankaful Psych Hospital and a Catholic halfway house. These meetings were well attended but in need of books and literature as well as direct contact with the experience of those with a foundation in this Spiritual recovery process and the NA literature as most people are new.
On September 24th 2016, Ghana held its second “Recovery Walk”. The purpose was to raise awareness of the extent of substance use and that recovery from addiction is possible. It was also to highlight what kind of support is necessary in bringing greater focus to this issue. Approximately, 150 to 200 people participated in the walk, ending with radio and TV interviews and recovery related skits. All of the organizations mentioned above plus Remar Ghana, a Christian center for Rehabilitation were part of the walk. Christian based programs use the 12 step programs as a secondary focus as their particular religious tenet is primary. Remar is an international Christian rehab who has not embraced the 12 step process. There were members of the community (non addicts) who supported the walk but the majority of walkers were in recovery. This was a demonstration of the growing numbers looking for recovery and the hope developing in Ghana.
There are eight NA meetings in total in a country of approximately 26 million people. AA was reintroduced to the Ghanaian society after NA was established in 2004. AA was there prior to 2004 but died out. There is a lot of confusion regarding the purpose and intention regarding how each program works. AA’s focus on alcohol and NA’s focus on the disease of addiction is muddied and misunderstood. Also, there is a strong inclusion of particular religious tenets in NA a fellowship that does not endorse any religion with intent to welcome anyone from any religion or lack of religious background.
Denial- is recovery possible?
Addiction is stigmatized just as HIV is, so the family is shamed due to the presence of either of these diseases causing families to deny these issues as they hide or abandon family members who are using drugs or are HIV+. Women especially are forced into isolation by both their addictive use of wet and dry drugs as well as the families guilt and shame. Many die alone and in secret. The few NA meetings that do exist do not reflect the magnitude of women who are disproportionally represented. They simply do not come to the meetings. Fear and Shame are contributing to the denial that continues to destroy families. Fear that the addict will ruin the reputation of the family as addiction is viewed as a curse, meaning someone has brought on drug use as a consequence of moral failings. The men are likely to be cast out of the family leading to a disproportionate number of men present attempting to recover via the 12 step programs.
The effect of drug use on HIV is an increase in new infections as people under the influence tend to dismiss the use of prophylactics such as condoms. Many substance users acting on the spur of the moment forget to engage in safer sex practices. HIV does not discriminate. Injection drug use is also a major gateway to new infection. In many places in the world including the U.S. injection drug use is the primary mode of use being monitored by organizations like the CDC when in fact drug use outside of injection drug use is significant and relative to the impact that all forms of drug use is having on community health. The conversation needs to change not just in Ghana but in every corner of the world regarding the use of drugs and the disease of addiction.
Denial is evident at all levels of society, as the government and its laws are still focused on the trafficking of drugs through Ghana not on the magnitude of wet and dry drugs being used right in their own backyards. Currently, use of everything from cocaine (especially crack), marijuana, heroin, alcohol and methamphetamines is throughout the country. The use of drugs is disproportionately high among the youth in the major cities. The government is beginning to understand but non government and faith based organizations and people in general resist the idea that recovery is possible. They believe once an addict always an addict.
NA DOES however have members on the front line who are championing the commitment to carry the message to the still suffering addicts. The message is simple, “that an addict any addict can stop using drugs, lose the desire to use and find a new way to live” with the support of other recovering addicts. They are keeping the flame of hope alive but need a lot of support. Some are in places where there is rampant drug use throughout their local community with no direct support, especially in Kumasi. Ghana is a member of the NA African Zonal Forum and is benefiting from the relationships it fosters with other African nations but it is my belief that an organized campaign to get the word out that “We do recover” is a must.
In Ghana, there is government support for only the most dire of diseases such as malaria, TB and HIV. Many people die from treatable illness due to lack of funds to diagnose as well as treat other health issues in general. Addiction is far down the list of issues that people are willing to face. The government agencies like the Ministry of Health, including the National Psychiatric Hospitals and the Narcotic Control Board and other stakeholders in the community including the schools, faith based organizations and the general business community overlooks or minimize the effect of the disease of addiction. Everyone is affected either directly or indirectly due to loss of productivity, lack of focus on relieving poverty and expanding healthcare. The net effect is the destabilization of community mental, emotional, and physical well-being. For the addict, this means jails institutions and death.
Politics and Religion- politicians are compromised- There is little separation of government and religion in Ghana. Unlike the U.S. who purports separation between the two.
Legalize Drugs –
Marijuana use is rising rapidly in Ghana, especially among the Youth. The United Nations held a special session on drug policy in April and one of Ghana's most famous sons, Kofi Annan, has already weighed into a heated debate.
Annan, who served as UN Secretary General from 1997 to 2006, is a member of the Global Commission on Drug Policy.
Annan was quoted in a German news magazine Der Spiegel as calling for a better regulation to protect drug users. "Drugs are dangerous, but current narcotics policies are an even bigger threat because punishment is given a greater priority than health and human rights," he said.
Technically, Ghanaian law doesn't prevent anyone from selling, buying or using narcotics. But there are conditions attached and the law contains the following provision: "Any person who imports or exports any narcotic drug without a license issued by the Secretary for Health for that purpose commits an offence and shall on conviction be liable to imprisonment for a term of not less than ten years."
Ghanaians calling for complete legalization want the government to place its focus on rehabilitation of drug users rather than on sending them to prison.
The Jails –
There is no treatment for addiction in the jails in Ghana. According to my recovering friends, the jails are in very bad condition and are an embarrassment. This is one of the reason outsiders like the 12 step programs are not invited in. Also, it is suggested that money to provide better conditions and real rehabilitation is not a focus because no one has ever looked at the numbers of prisoners who are there as a result of drug related crimes since most people including prison officials believe addiction is a moral failing not a disease. Corruption is a major issue as well because monies when available are redirected into the hands of those benefiting from the incarceration of others.
What can be done?
NA African Zonal Forum is a service board supported by the NA World Service to help support development of NA through the existing countries where NA is present and beyond. These countries include South Africa, Ghana, Nigeria, Tanzania, Kenya and Uganda. The NA World Service is providing African forums with the purpose of allowing these countries to develop among themselves . They provide books and other recovery related materials to support meeting expansion in each individual country.
Seeing the fellowship development first hand and also seeing the slow growth of NA in Ghana, I am making a suggestion to NA to send books as well as a team of members qualified to train the individual country members on the Steps, Traditions and Concepts of service to take back to their respective counties to raise public awareness of NA’s message and how the program works as a long term solution. The idea would be to educate members to do public relations, get a better understanding of how the program has saved millions worldwide and how NA affiliates with treatment and AA.
Recovery Walk –
More frequent Recovery Walks is also suggested to include more stakeholders each time including a conversation regarding a National Treatment program with its own directive to support those interested in recovery. Also, instituting a National Awareness Program that coordinates with internationally observed Recovery related issues and events.
Develop community based participatory research-
It became painfully obvious that the researchers in Africa miss the mark when it comes to connecting to the using communities throughout Africa with maybe a couple of exceptions in South and East Africa. I attended the International AIDS Conference in July of 2016 to hear the frustration of researchers from all over Africa concluding that they have great difficulty interviewing and gathering accurate data regarding the numbers of users of drugs and therefore the magnitude of support necessary to begin turning the tide of new users, also helping those seeking recovery access to programs that work. Community based participatory research could hold the key in unlocking the door necessary in gathering accurate data. Involving recovering addicts in data gathering would greatly improve the data relating to current realities of drug use and the need to improve treatment as well as a long term solution after treatment. It is the evidence based research that is necessary to change or add new laws and shifts the perception for a new conversation regarding drug use local to the Ghanaian community and beyond.
NA is not the only way to recover. It is a proven way that works for many addicts as AA works for the Alcoholic. Some people even find recover through the church or therapy. Ultimately, whatever works for the individual is the solution as each person must commit to embrace recovery as a personal responsibility with help from others.
I am a self-starter, motivated by my own life experiences and the power of positive thinking. Personal and Social concerns have propelled me into advocacy for a cause I am most passionate about, the health and well being of people of color. Living with HIV since 1983 and recovering from substance abuse since 1996, my career as a Telecommunications Consultant and Systems Engineer was interrupted by these two life challenges. After much soul searching and introspective work, my path was redirected into teaching others how to extend Life through educational project management and community advocacy. I believe the Truth is setting us free.
Chicago Public School- Graduate -1970
Northern Illinois University-Bachelor of Science (Education) -1975
Cal State University, East Bay- Masters’ Program in Public Administration-currently
I am using education, access to medical treatment and my own personal experience as tools to develop a wellness model for the prevention and treatment of HIV and addiction. I have been working through a non-profit organization founded by myself and other like-minded individuals, known as AID for AIDS/AFRICA (AFAA). AFAA has operated informally since 1998 and became a non-profit in 2001. I serve as the volunteer Executive Director and Program Coordinator. I was involved in the planning and execution of the East Bay AIDS Walk. As Co Chair of the East Bay Church of Religious Science- Health and Wellness Ministry and AFAA’s Positively Speaking program, I was able to organize the only community based and faith-based team. We were the largest team more than (10%) of all the walkers for two years.
Programs administered and managed by me via AFAA are:
1. The “Positively Speaking” speakers’ bureau for schools and faith-based programs.
2. Humanitarian Missions- Educational and Medical Relief Program
3. The “Community Forums” Program- community forums to enhance the lives of those who are living with HIV as well as prevention and treatment via educational medical intervention for those who are or are not infected.
4. Consulting on collaborative projects and event planning with ASO’s CBO’s and the faith-based community. I Facilitated the HIV AIDS ADVOCACY COUNCIL (HAAC) as a partnership with AIDS PROJECT of the East Bay and have developed advocacy program community forums in collaboration with major pharmaceutical companies for the HIV and recovering from addiction communities.
I presented at two International AIDS Conferences (2000 and 2002). I also presented at the US Conference on AIDS in 2003 and 2009. The presentation workshop at the 2009 conference was “HIV & SUBSTANCE ABUSE-SCALING UP TREATMENT IN AFRICA.”
I am a Free-lance Writer. I have written for Arise Magazine, the Black Business Listings, San Francisco AIDS Foundation newsletter and various newsletters and Gibbs E-Magazine since 1998.
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