By Evans Masitara
The past weeks have seen one of our promising footballers, Denver Mukamba, being in the newspapers daily over his well-known disciplinary issues emanating from suspected substance abuse.
This makes for sad reading given the player’s humble background and the hope we had that he could use football to change his life and that of his family and in the process become a role model for kids in the ghettos.
The fact that he had the opportunity to play for the biggest club in Zimbabwe, Dynamos, one which I have keenly supported from childhood, has brought personal grief to my soul. The issue of substance abuse disorders is not peculiar to Denver though, but it is a reflection of the cancer which is slowly eating into our country’s youngsters, one which if not addressed urgently could easily lead to a lost generation.
A few years ago one of my homeboys in Masvingo succumbed to a cocaine overdose at the tender age of 27. Drug abuse is on the rise in Zimbabwe, but surprisingly our Health Ministry has not set up any drug rehabilitation facilities to help victims.
Society has a tendency to blame these patients not realising that drug abuse, alcoholism and other related disorders are actually medical conditions which we should treat the same way as HIV, diabetes or cancer.
These people need help and support. My short stint working at Annexe Psychiatric hospital revealed startling statistics of the number of teenagers who are being admitted for substance abuse disorders.
This medical condition affects the whole spectrum from the affluent suburbs to the poorest residing in Hopley, from doctors, accountants, lawyers to bricklayers and carpenters. There is no discrimination, lives have been lost and families torn apart.
We embarked on a clean-up exercise in Mbare with MSF (Medecins Sans Frontiers) in July 2017, in a period of less than two hours we collected more than 5 000 bottles of the toxic substances being abused in the area. Cocaine is now the drug of choice for house parties in rich suburbs and smuggled alcohol has taken over the streets of Harare.
This is a time bomb waiting to explode. Government has to do something to control drug and alcohol intake, especially by young people in this country. My mentor, the late national hero Timothy Stamps had been working on an alcohol policy which sought to limit the advertisement and hours of sale for alcohol and cigarettes.
The last we spoke he had submitted his draft and I hope this issue will be given the urgency it requires and funds are mobilised to set up a government-run rehabilitation centre to take care of this unique group of patient.
Progressive nations have since banned the advertisement of cigarettes due to the well-known harmful effects. I was horrified at the last UZ Graduation to see a prominent former legislator of the main opposition party graduating while puffing furiously on a cigarette with his five-year-old son sitting next to him.
In Kenya, for example, smoking booths have been erected in the Nairobi CBD. Evans Masitara is the secretary-general of the Zimbabwe Doctors for Human Rights and a Dynamos fan.