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Drug addict Michael Karongo takes methadone at MSF's drug therapy clinic in Kiambu. March 2020

Kenya

Tackling addiction problems through operational research in Kenya

Drug addict Michael Karongo takes methadone at MSF's drug therapy clinic in Kiambu. March 2020 © Paul Odongo/ MSF
Testimonies 
During her two weeks field visit in Kenya last April, Maria Verdecchia, MSF epidemiologist and operational research advisor at the MSF Luxembourg Research Unit (LuxOR), developed a research agenda for missions focusing on non-communicable diseases and drug abuse. In addition, she supported the team on epidemiology and finalised ongoing research projects.

    "I have been supporting Kenya for a year and it is really important to witness, see the projects on site and meet the people face to face. In order to provide relevant advice, it is crucial that I get to see first-hand the situation, conditions and constraints on the ground”, explained Maria.

    During her visit to Kiambu County (Kiambaa sub-county), which has one of the highest rates of drug users in Kenya, she had the opportunity to discuss with Johanna Schöner, a psychiatrist at MSF's drug therapy clinic, about research into drug addiction:

    Johanna Schöner:We have a very special cohort of patients in this MSF medication assisted therapy clinic. Most of them have not only addition for opioids, but also cross addictions. Sadly, we do not have much information about which substances they are actually using, neither why they are using them.

    “A first assessment showed that 20% of our patients use non-prescribed Benzodiazepines, and many of them also use alcohol. This, together with other factors, could contribute to them defaulting and not coming  to the clinic anymore. The combination of these substances could lead  to a lot of problems, including overdosing.

    Henceforth, we would like to find out how many patients do actually use benzodiazepines and alcohol, in order to decide if it is it necessary to establish some interventions, such as more targeted group therapy sessions.

    "Besides, a secondary objective is to find out whether the use of those substances is correlated with some mental health disorders like depression and anxiety. At the moment, the prevalence of those disorders is rather low among our patients. Our suspicion is that they 'self-medicated' with substances like Benzodiazepines and alcohol and therefore present less symptoms of psycological distress. Doing this study will allow us to have a clearer picture and design targeted interventions for our patients", explains Johanna. 

    Johanna Schöner arrived in January 2022 in Kenya and met the LuxOR Unit short after.

    It is a very positive experience for me because I feel that they are very engaged and have a lot of experience on this field, including on mental health - which is often neglected-.

    "It was very helpful to have their full availability and support, for both the technical and administrative level.”, she recons.

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